NGO sector in exposes of the mandate holders: partner in rhetoric, ignored or marked as an enemy in practice

In the exposes of three designated Prime Ministers of the Government since 2020 – Zdravko Krivokapić, Dritan Abazović and Milojko Spajić – the NGO sector is marginally represented. Only 1.25% in Krivokapić’s expose was dedicated to the NGO sector, 2.65% in Abazović one, and 1.50% in Spajić one. All three exposes have in common that in those few sentences they generally emphasized that the Government will nourish partnership with NGOs, although no progress has been recorded.

In Zdravko Krivokapić’s expose, in priorities it is emphasized that he will stand for “cooperation with civil society in the realization of projects of general benefit”, and “the involvement of the civil sector in all social initiatives” was promised. It is also stated that this Government “sees NGOs as partners who contribute to the overall democratic development of our society”, announcing that they will work on improving the environment for NGO activities. As part of the explanation of the competences of the Ministry of Public Administration, Media and Digital Society, which also covered NGOs, he also promised that public policies regarding the activities of NGOs will be improved. Finally, the transparency of the work in the state administration was promised, in order to be able to respond to irregularities in a timely manner, seeing it as everyone’s obligation, but highlighting the NGO sector.

The Government of Zdravko Krivokapić did not establish significant cooperation with the NGO sector, nor did it contribute to the improvement of the conditions for the work of the NGO sector. During its mandate, there was a notable dicrease in funding NGO projects, with several ministries failing to implement regular calls for proposals, and issues were also identified in the NGO registration procedures, which were excessively prolonged at the time. The promised transparency applied only to accessing information from the work of the previous Government, but not the one he led, limited the role of NGOs as watchdogs of that authority.

Dritan Abazović’s expose allocated the most space to the NGO sector compared to the other two mandate holders, with a dedicated section stating: “Citizens have long recognized the importance of the non-governmental sector for general social trends and faster democratic development, and the new Government recognizes key partners in that sector, with exceptional potential for the development of society in all areas, as well as a significant impact on social cohesion and solidarity. An influential, independent and professional non-governmental sector is a prerequisite for our further democratic growth and a necessary factor on our European path. Therefore, the state’s investment in its development is not an expense, but an investment in the progress of society. Enabling the free action and participation of NGOs in important decision-making processes are a prerequisite for better solutions, better laws and more responsible work of institutions. That is why the non-governmental sector will be a strategic partner of this Government on its European journey”. Further, it was stated that: “Creating an environment for the smooth operation of NGOs that make a strong contribution to the quality of public policies, and at the same time critically analyze the work of state institutions and point out shortcomings, the Government will continue to encourage and empower in order to improve the quality of all processes and achieve better results.” ” In the same part, it is promised to support the implementation of the Strategy of Cooperation between State Administration Bodies and Non-Governmental Organizations 2022-2026, along with the improvement of the Law on NGOs, public financing model, consultation practices, and the strengthening of participatory culture among civil servants. “A special innovation and qualitative change in cooperation with NGOs will be the beginning of a strategic and thoughtful investment in the development of their capacities, as well as the creation of conditions for increasing employment in the non-governmental sector. This government will provide that sector with direct support for the improvement of professionalism, expansion of programmes, development of innovations, ..” is part of Abazović’s big promises to the NGO sector.

Dritan Abazović’s Government promised the most to the NGO sector, but also failed the most, positioning itself hostilely against the critically oriented NGO sector. Abazović and his most loyal ministers led open conflicts with some of the most influential and credible NGOs. The level of intensity of some attacks launched by that government against NGOs, either directly or through close actors, was noticed by the broader domestic and international public, which reacted on several occasions. The promised qualitative change in the relationship with the NGO sector did not materialize, nor the implementation of the announced measures to improve the conditions for the work of the NGO sector, including the fact that the new Law on Non-Governmental Organizations has not been done either, which was also an obligation that this Government set for itself through the EU Accession Programme.

Milojko Spajić’s expose vaguely addresses the non-governmental sector. Hence, it is stated that the Government “through the existing strategic framework for strengthening the cooperation between the state and the NGO sector will continue to strengthen the dialogue with the civil sector. In this way, it will provide guidelines, ensure long-term, strategic and quality partnership between the state and civil society organizations, which will help in the joint creation of services for all citizens of Montenegro“. The inclusion of the civil sector in the negotiation process is emphasized, as well as in the implementation of social policies and the significance of NGOs providing social services. “We will work on strengthening the cooperation and trust of the non-governmental sector, especially in the area of creating legal frameworks for social policy and social work, taking into account that the common goal is to strengthen and improve the provision of all types of services to the end user”.

Spajić’s Government is still in the phase when its relationship with the NGO sector is being assessed, but it should be noted that Spajić did not initiate any thematic meeting with the NGO sector in the first two and a half months of his term, excluding ad hoc invitations to meetings regarding the census that included a broader circle of actors.

The review of these documents was conducted through the CCE’s programme, supported by the Core Grant regional project SMART Balkans – Civil Society for a Connected Western Balkans. This project is implemented by the Center for the Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD), the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPM), and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway. The content of the text is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CPCD, CRPM, IDM, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway.

Nikola Obradović, Programme Assistant