Corruption has a strong and negative impact on economic development, contributes to stratification and inequality in society, which is why it is necessary to strengthen further the mechanisms established by local governments in terms of transparency and accountability of doing the business of immediate interest to citizens.
This was assessed in the panel "Corruption at the local level is not a local problem", within the second part of the annual national conference on corruption at the local level "Let's place corruption in the museum", organized by the Center for Civic Education (CCE).
Assistant Secretary-General of the Communities of Municipalities, Sasa Scekic, said that the mechanisms, which all local governments had established, needed to be further strengthened in terms of transparency and accountability of doing the business of immediate interest to citizens.
"I do not agree that these mechanisms have not been established. I can agree that there is room for progress and change; however they are clearly established and exist in all local governments. Whether and to what extent we use them and whether we use them in the right way is a question for all of us,” said Scekic.
He believes that the continuous training of local officials and employees is essential.
"These are complex and responsible jobs, and we have a problem that people who do these jobs often change. We have a situation where people leave municipalities and start their private business. We have to pay attention to keep these people, to further train them to do their job," said Scekic.
He also said that "there is also an inertness of citizens when it comes to things that are of immediate interest for them."
Executive Director of the Institute for Business and Financial Literacy, Milos Vukovic, said corruption has a strong and negative impact on economic development and quality of life.
"Corruption contributes to stratification and inequality in every society, even in Montenegro, undermines trust in institutions and can lead to certain instabilities in society. It is difficult to measure systemic corruption, because of its hidden nature and its various manifestations in society. Corruption is very persistent and the results in the fight against corruption are very slow,” Vukovic said.
Vukovic recalled that, according to an IMF document, Fiscal Monitor, in April 2019, it was clearly established that government revenues were significantly lower in countries that were considered more corrupt.
"For the group of countries to which Montenegro belongs, only tax revenues can generate 4.25% more annual GDP than the least corrupt countries. As GDP stood at 4.6 billion euros in 2018, this means that Montenegro, based on better tax collection alone, could have collected more than 195 million euros or about 535,000 euros a day or 6.20 euros every second or some 50,000 euros in duration of today's panel," Vukovic specified.
According to him, corruption affects "all of us" and leads to weaker institutions, feelings of injustice, distrust, reduced quality of health services and education for all.
"If we calculate this percentage to annual GDP, from 2006 to 2018, we could collect almost €2 billion on tax alone. This also means that our debt could have been two-thirds lower than it is today, bearing in mind that as of June 30, 2019, it amounted to 3.13 billion," he explained.
"Corruption, in combination with other factors, is leading to a mass exodus of intellectual elites and young people. If we continue like this, in 10-15 years, we will have no one to exchange opinions with. That is why the fight against corruption must be placed at the number one position in the country," concluded Vukovic.
The State Prosecutor, a representative of the Supreme State Prosecutor's Office, Vukas Radonjic, said that the statistics do not reflect the dedicated work of state prosecutors in the fight against corruption.
"I will not speak about the statistics here, it is in the annual report on the work of the State Prosecutor's Office, and this is all available, including the number of complaints, on the prosecutor's website," Radonjic said.
He stated that it was acceptable for the public to doubt and criticize the work of any institution, including the State Prosecutor's Office, explaining in detail the legal competencies of the Prosecutor's Office.
“And the State Prosecution is striving to achieve better results. However, you must accept that the public interest is protected in the course of criminal proceedings. That is why criminal proceedings cannot be public during the whole duration, especially when it comes to crimes of high corruption. When the authorities conducting the proceedings consider that the public should be aware of a case, they will come forward with adequate information,” Radonjic explained when asked about individual cases.
He called on citizens, inspection, customs, tax and other authorities, those involved in anti-money laundering and terrorist financing, to report corruption offenses.
"Every application will be considered. We need to raise awareness in society that corruption is a serious social problem and that we cannot accept it as a daily occurrence," Radonjic said.
He said that the Special State Prosecutor's Office (SSP) initiated six criminal cases ex officio last year, and that the Police Directorate had filed 277 applications and non-governmental organizations 26.
"In any case, over 800 applications were received by SSP during 2018. These applications are active and in process," Radonjic said.
The head of the integrity, lobbying and regulatory analysis department at the Anti-Corruption Agency, Grozdana Lakovic, explained that Integrity Plans were conceived as a preventive instrument, which is primarily an assessment of institutions and employees.
“There is stagnation, and this is demonstrated by the last two reports of the European Commission where the recommendations for local government are identical. An integrity plan is a preventative anti-corruption mechanism that you cannot expect to produce a miracle. The integrity plan depends on the integrity of the individual who writes it and on the integrity of the head of the authority who signs and releases it," said Lakovic.
She assessed that the integrity plan depends on the general, overall social milieu "in which we are placed."
"I'm not happy with the milieu that we are in," Lakovic said.
She pointed out that the main recommendation in the EC report is merit-based employment, in order to realize the principle of professionalism and responsibility of local government employees, regardless of the ruling party.
"A systematic year-round training plan is a very important tool for generating staff, which will remain independent of the political structure in that municipality," Lakovic said.
Director-General of the Directorate for local government and state-owned companies in the Ministry of Finance, Snezana Mugosa, said it was crucial to place emphasis on transparency of local governments when planning and implementing the budget.
"When it comes to the budget planning process, transparency is very important. Municipalities are obliged to hold a public discussion. However, it is evident that the low level of citizen participation seems to be primarily due to a poor understanding of the municipality's budget and because it is not presented in an understandable way. The recommendation through our activities is for everyone to prepare a Citizens Budget Guide that will show in an understandable way how to collect, finance and spend budget funds,” explained Mugosa.
As for the debt, she said, according to the latest data, the total debt of local governments is around 151 million euros on loans, and when it comes to arrears, they amount to 69 million euros at the end of the second quarter of this year. "But it is important that these obligations are being reduced," she stressed.
The project “Let's Put Corruption in a Museum” is implemented by the Center for Civic Education (CCE) in partnership with the Monitoring and Research Center (CEMI), NGO Bonum from Pljevlja, NGO UL-Info from Ulcinj and NGO Zadruga from Petrovac, in cooperation with the Anti-Corruption Agency and with the support of the Delegation Of the European Union in Montenegro and the Ministry of Public Administration.
Text by Vijesti online, on September 9th, 2019, read more at Vijesti