Budget allocations to religious communities must be transparent

The Government of Montenegro, through three ministries – the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Justice – over the past three years (from 2021 to 2023), has allocated at least 3,747,598.99 EUR to religious communities in Montenegro, based on various grounds and often without informing the public, as indicated by data obtained by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE), in accordance with the provisions of the Free Access to Information Law, with the caveat that this is the complete sum because some ministries did not provide all the requested data.

The Ministry of Education has allocated the most money to religious communities, primarily through funding two secondary religious schools – the Madrasa “Mehmed Fatih” and the Gymnasium “Sveti Sava” in Podgorica, although controversies regarding the licensing of the Gymnasium “Saint Sava” have not been clarified to date, nor have those suspected of abusing their official powers in this case been prosecuted. In total, the Ministry of Education allocated 2.2 million EUR for the needs of three religious schools – Medresa “Mehmed Fatih”, Gymnasium “Saint Sava” and Gymnasium “Metropolitan haji Sava Kosanovic” (whereby the money initially earmarked for the Gymnasium “Metropolitan haji Sava Kosanovic”  was later transferred to the gymnasium ”Saint Sava“), of which half a million EUR in 2021, and 1.7 million EUR in 2022. Of this amount, 1.3 million EUR was allocated to the Medresa “Mehmed Fatih”, including the coverage of earlier contractual obligations, and 0.9 million EUR to the newly established Gymnasium “Saint Sava”.

The Ministry of Justice, in response to various requests from religious communities, disbursed 1,052,425.01 EUR, with 194,000.13 EUR in 2021, 616,581.18 EUR in 2022, and 241,843.7 EUR in 2023. The largest portion was allocated to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) – a total of 616,581.18 EUR, of which 479,644 EUR was transferred for the “renovation and equipping of the library of the blessed late Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral Amfilohije in the Stanjevići Monastery.”

The Ministry of Culture disbursed 495,173.98 EUR to religious communities over the three years – 202,326.86 EUR in 2021, 132,547.12 EUR in 2022, and 160,300 EUR in 2023. The largest portion of money was allocated for the reconstruction of the Theological Seminary of St. Peter of Cetinje and for the project development and restoration of the Redžepagić Mosque and its building, with the Serbian Orthodox Church receiving the most of funds.

Overall, according to available information, the Serbian Orthodox Church received the highest financial allocations from the Government of Montenegro for religious communities. This includes 41% (900,000 EUR) from the Ministry of Education, 74% (777,826.47 EUR) from the Ministry of Justice, and 79% (318,756.86 EUR) from the Ministry of Culture for those purposes. Specifically, out of a total of 3,747,598.99 EUR documented in contracts provided by the three ministries of the Government of Montenegro to the CCE, the SOC received 2,088,330.45 EUR, accounting for 55.72%, with 276,726.63 EUR in 2021, 1,617,191.12 EUR in 2022, and 194,412.70 EUR in 2023.

The Islamic Community (IC) ranked second in support of the Government, receiving a total of 1,465,571.91 EUR, or 39.11%. It should be noted that out of this amount, 1.3 million EUR was transferred to the Islamic Community’s Meshihat for the needs of the Madrasa “Mahmed Fatih” including covering previous contractual obligations. In breakdown, the Islamic Community received 540,084.81 EUR in 2021, 816,187.10 EUR in 2022, and 109,300 EUR in 2023.

SOC and IC are the only religious communities to receive financial transfers from all three ministries of the Government of Montenegro during this period.

Meanwhile, the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) received 83,487.03 EUR or 2.25% of the total allocated funds from the Government of Montenegro, with 28,045.45 EUR in 2021, 5,389.58 EUR in 2022, and 50,052 EUR in 2023 from the Ministry of Justice.

The Jewish Community received 54,780.5 EUR or 1.50% of the total disbursed funds from the Government of Montenegro, and from the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports in 2021, and from the Ministry of Justice in all these years. Specifically, 27,370 EUR in 2021, 6,160.5 EUR in 2022, and 21,250 EUR in 2023.

The Catholic Church received support from the Government of Montenegro with 31,000 EUR or 0.85% of the total amount allocated to religious communities, with 20,000 EUR in 2021 and 11,000 EUR in 2023, all payments coming from the Ministry of Justice.

The Diocese of Podgorica and Duklja received 11,800 EUR, or 0.32% of the allocated funds for religious communities, through the Ministry of Justice. Specifically, 4,100 EUR in 2021, 4,200 EUR in 2022, and 6,520 EUR in 2023.

In 2023, the Ministry of Justice also disbursed 3,500 EUR to the Christian Adventist Church, 3,500 EUR to the Church of the Gospel of Christ, and 2,600 EUR to the Christian Centre “The Beacon.”

CCE emphasizes that these are not the final total amounts allocated to religious communities from 2021 to 2023 but solely relate to contracts held by the CCE, obtained in accordance with the Free Access to Information Law, noting that at least two contracts were not provided by one ministry but were later identified by the CCE through the media archive.

CCE underscores the importance of transparency in these allocations, which has been lacking so far, as all these funds were distributed mainly discretionary, without public tenders, and without subsequent detailed information explaining the legal basis and criteria for distribution.

The overview of Government of Montenegro’s allocations to religious communities over the past three years was conducted with the support of the Core Grant of the regional project SMART Balkans – Civil Society for a Connected Western Balkans, implemented by the Center for Civil Society Promotion (CPCD), Public Policy Research Centre (CRPM), and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway.

The content of this statement is the sole responsibility of CCE and does not necessarily reflect the views of CPCD, CRPM, IDM, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway.

Nikola Obradović, Programme Assistant