Why does the Ministry of Education protect directors who abuse their official positions?

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) assesses that the state of education is alarming, which is confirmed, among other things, by the fact that the beginning of the school year is marked by numerous pressing problems about which we receive daily information. Of particular concern is the mounting evidence that directors of public educational institutions who should have been dismissed a long time ago due to their abuse of official positions have not been removed.

CCE has been and will continue to point out shortcomings in the work and actions of the Ministry of Education. It is the initiatives of CCCE that have raised many issues and questions about the accountability of those responsible within Montenegro’s education system. The Ministry of Education is expected to fulfill its responsibilities, and the Minister, as the manager is expected to coordinate the institutions over under the jurisdiction of the Ministry and monitor the findings of the supervisory body regarding their work to ensure the smooth functioning of the education system. This is not a matter of good will, but an obligation under the prescribed horizontal and vertical model. Disregarding the work and actions of the supervisory body, i.e., the educational inspection, carries serious responsibility for any resulting harm from negligence.

CCE reminds that, in accordance with the legal framework, until May 2023, the Minister of Education appointed and dismissed managers of public educational institutions. It is noticeable that the appointments went smoothly, but removals, for which there was evidence of abuse of official positions, have been conspicuously absent. The public must be informed why numerous proposals for the removal of directors, accompanied by detailed records, submitted by various educational inspectors, have remained hidden in the drawers of the Ministry of Education.

In recent days, the public has been informed that the Minister of Education refuse to dismiss the director of the Public High School of Maritime Studies in Kotor, Ratko Petrović, for serious abuse of his official position. The Ministry tried to justify this by claiming that there were no explicit proposal for his dismissal, although this was denied by the competent inspector. Furthermore, even after the media reports and the CCE’s initiative, the Ministry did not request the competent inspection for documentation for the dismissal of Petrović, which would have been logical if there was no intention to cover up the case.

Furthermore, the Minister of Education ignored three consecutive proposals for the dismissal of the director of the Public Electro-Economic High School in Bijelo Polje, Velibor Karličić (the first from 10 June 2022,  second from 31 March 2023 and the third sent to the School Board of that institution on 12 June 2023). The Minister was obliged to act directly on the first two proposals and professionally engage in the third. If the Minister did not receive these proposals, then an investigation must be opened to determine where the documentation that should have been in the Ministry of Education has disappeared.

CCE points out that these proposals for dismissal, which have not been acted upon, testify to the continuous violation of Article 83, under any of the 18 points, which imposes an obligation to the Minister with binding legal force to act on these proposals to prevent an imperative that entails criminal liability.  However, it appears that the minister’s discretionary right to make decisions has taken precedence over legal obligations and has become a practice at the expense of respecting clearly defined legal obligations, whether mandatory or imperative. It should also be emphasized that proposals for dismissal of directors are supported by arguments of misconduct and irregularities in the managing public educational institutions, sometimes extending over prolonged periods, and must be acted upon.

The latest reaction of the Ministry of Education to this issue through alleged “explanations” incriminates the minister and the Ministry itself, sending a dangerous and incorrect message to school boards, which are now responsible for appointing and removing directors, regarding how to handle proposals from the educational inspection for the removal of directors based on evidence of misconduct and abuse. This could raise questions about other forms of accountability, especially those related to the harm caused by such directors.

Furthermore, CGO expects new education authorities, once a new government is formed, to support the work of the educational inspection and refrain from discrediting and undermining the work of educational inspectors by ignoring their findings.

CCE also emphasizes that decisions on educational inspection proposals cannot be made discriminatorily, removing directors when it suits those in charge and not implementing removals in cases where interests differ.

CCE also calls for strengthening the Department for Educational Inspection, which operates within the Inspection Affairs Administration, with additional staff of integrity. Also, CCE expects new educational authorities, once a new Government is formed, to support the work of the educational inspection and refrain from discrediting and undermining the work of educational inspectors by ignoring their findings.

Snežana Kaluđerović, Senior Legal Advisor