Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 14:54 GMT

Nations in Transit 2012 - Montenegro

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2012 - Montenegro, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd5dd293e.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Podgorica

Population: 0.6 million

GNI/capita, PPP: US$12,770

Source: The data above were provided by The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2010.

Montenegro 10-year ratings

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance, to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

2012 Scores

Democracy Score:3.82
Regime Classification:Semi-Consolidated Democracy
National Democratic Governance:4.25
Electoral Process:3.25
Civil Society:2.75
Independent Media:4.25
Local Democratic Governance:3.25
Judicial Framework and Independence:4.00
Corruption:5.00

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary:

In October 2011, the European Commission (EC) officially recommended Montenegro to begin accession negotiations to the European Union (EU). The EC noted Montenegro's progress on seven key priorities identified in the 2010 EC Opinion, including the long-awaited passage of amendments to the election law in September. The EU encouraged Montenegro to continue with judicial and anti-discrimination reforms. Poor implementation of anticorruption measures remains a serious problem.

National Democratic Governance. Public administration in Montenegro is characterized by weak policymaking capacity in ministries, nepotism, limited inter-ministerial cooperation, and understaffing in most government bodies. Parliamentary committees were more active in 2011, meeting more regularly and drafting work agendas. The government took steps to reform the legal framework governing the civil service, including a new Law on civil servants and state employees, and amendments to the Law on General Administrative Procedure. New provisions of the Law on Conflict of Interest Prevention were adopted and entered into force, prohibiting sitting MPs from serving as directors of state administrative bodies or as members of other managerial bodies at either the national or local level. Montenegro's rating for national democratic governance remains at 4.25.

Electoral process. After four years of deadlock, amendments to the law on election of municipal councilors and members of parliament were adopted in September 2011. The law represents the harmonization between the electoral framework and Montenegro's constitutional commitment to authentic representation of minorities, introducing a system of affirmative action for representation in parliamentary elections. However, there are indications that the ruling coalition can still manipulate the system in its favor, mostly through the control of campaign resources, which are significantly more powerful than those available to opposition parties. The Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian populations remain underrepresented in the political sphere. Montenegro's rating for electoral process remains at 3.25.

Civil Society. Montenegro has a vibrant civil society with many active NGOs, but their presence is uneven, both regionally and in terms of thematic focus. The strongest are those in Podgorica, which deal mainly with good governance, human rights, anticorruption, and EU affairs, and have considerable capacity for public advocacy. Traditionally, relations between Montenegrin NGOs and the government have been strained, but bilateral communication has increased in the last two years, as symbolized by the establishment of the Council for Cooperation of the Montenegro Government and Non-Governmental Organizations at the end of 2010. The council became fully operational in early 2011, though the extent of its influence remains to be seen. Many NGOs are financially strained, as public funding at the local and national level is scarce. The funding allocation process is opaque, and project implementation is not monitored. The positive role of civil society in meeting the political conditions of the EC was acknowledged by both national and EU officials in 2011. Montenegro's rating for civil society remains at 2.75.

Independent Media. In accordance with priorities defined by the EU, the government decriminalized libel in 2011, though fines against media and journalists remain much higher than those established by the case law of the European Court for Human Rights. Inadequate protection of journalists from intimidation by powerful politicians and business leaders remains the main criticism of Montenegro's media environment. Numerous cases of attacks on journalists in the last five years have not been resolved; neither have perpetrators been punished due to various reasons, including insufficient evidence, slow court proceedings and the judiciary's frequent inability to issue final verdicts. The absence of clear regulation on excessive concentration of media ownership partially explains the shrinking number of viewpoints available to media consumers; another reason is the subtle pressure on media outlets to align themselves with certain perspectives or risk losing state-sponsored advertising. Most of the state advertising budget goes to media considered loyal to the government. Internet media are becoming a source of information and a communication channel for more citizens. However, internet portals often contain content that is defamatory and in some cases filled with hate speech against various social groups and individuals. Montenegro's rating for independent media remains at 3.25.

Local Democratic Governance. Municipal governments in Montenegro are overstaffed and underfunded, with significant financial disparities among the regions. However, as a result of changes introduced in 2010, local government revenues increased in 2011. In June, the government adopted the 2011-16 development strategy for inter-municipal cooperation in Montenegro, together with the 2011-13 Action Plan for its implementation. After the new Law on Territorial Organization was adopted, national minority groups asked that new municipalities be established, but the government rejected these requests. Instances of local opposition MPs "switching sides" to the ruling parties in Podgorica and in Andrijevica after the 2010 local elections raised questions on the independence of local MPs and the legitimacy and transparency of local governance. In Budva, Mayor Rajko Kuljača resigned after being indicted in the high-profile "Zavala" corruption case, and the DPS-SDP coalition elected Lazar Rađenović (DPS) as the new mayor. Local authorities do not have firm control over municipal finances. Montenegro's rating for local democratic governance remains at 4.25.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The EC noted progress on judicial reform in 2011, particularly with respect to the accountability, impartiality and efficiency of judges and prosecutors. Parliament enacted amendments to the laws on courts, the Judicial Council and the state prosecution office, which the EC praised while encouraging vigilance on implementation. The capacity of state prosecutors to implement the new Criminal Procedure Code, which took effect in August, and coordinate law enforcement remains weak. Court proceedings tend to be overly long, and the case backlog is substantial, though the new Law on Notaries is designed to improve judicial efficiency. Even in high-profile cases in 2011, the judiciary demonstrated its immaturity and unprofessionalism, especially in the murder trial of chief police inspector Slavoljub Scekic. The judicial administrative staff went on strike over low wages, delaying court proceedings. Pending clear evidence that new judicial reforms are effectively implemented, Montenegro's rating for judicial framework and independence remains at 4.00.

Corruption. Anticorruption legislation and strategies are in place, but implementation is lagging, and corruption is widespread in many spheres. There are numerous anticorruption institutions and agencies, but they lack efficiency, coordination, and/or independence. The government remains the largest employer in Montenegro, and budget allocations indicate that companies benefit disproportionately from direct relationships with certain government officials. In 2011, the government was more forthcoming with documentation related to large public procurement contracts, but full transparency is still a long way off. In March and December, charges were filed linking several government officials and businessmen to the illegal construction of lucrative properties without adequate permits. Lack of protection for "whistleblowers" remains a barrier to prosecution of corruption-related offenses. Studies indicate that the public still sees many forms of corruption as socially acceptable. Montenegro's rating for corruption remains at 5.00.

Outlook for 2012. The opening of accession negotiations with the EU, expected in June, will be the hallmark of 2012 for Montenegro. The government will face the challenge of implementing recent reforms and initiating new ones to address the most demanding chapters of the acquis communitaire, including Chapter 23 (on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and Chapter 24 (on Justice, Freedom and Security). Parliament can be expected to focus on amending the constitution to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, while police and prosecutorial authorities will concentrate on tackling corruption and organized crime. The outcome of these efforts will be an important litmus test for rule of law in Montenegro. Especially with regard to judicial reform, attempts to rush constitutional amendments in order to expedite EU negotiations could jeopardize the quality of the envisaged changes. Amendments require a two-thirds majority to pass, which will mean heavy bargaining between the ruling coalition and the opposition, creating opportunities for political and nationalistic posturing at the expense of meaningful reform.

National Democratic Governance:

Heavy reliance on individuals rather than on institutions weakens the overall stability of Montenegro's governing system, perpetuating the overwhelming influence of the executive branch. Strengthening parliamentary oversight, efficiency, and transparency was the focus of the ambitious legislative activity in 2011, resulting in the reassessment of oversight competencies and improvements in the functioning of parliamentary committees, as well as strengthening of the parliamentary administrative capacities. Unfortunately, the political opposition still remains marginalized. However, cooperation between the parliament and civil society organizations significantly improved.

In the first six months of 2011, parliament concluded nine sessions, during which it passed 73 laws. Parliamentary committees held a total of 142 sessions, compared to 221 in all of 2010. Eleven committees, most notably the Committee for Security and Defense, adopted special plans for increasing parliamentary oversight over the government. For instance, in 2010 there were 13 consultative and two control hearings, compared with 28 and seven, respectively, in 2011. In plenary sessions, members of parliament (MPs) raised 208 questions in 2010, compared to 393 in 2011.

All members of parliament have regular opportunities to direct questions to the prime minister and other officials. However, an overwhelming majority of legislative initiatives still originate in the executive branch – which is to say, in the ruling parties – rather than the legislature. In the first six months of 2011, members of the parliamentary opposition initiated four draft laws and two decisions, while the executive branch proposed 66 draft laws, 37 amendments to the laws, two decisions and one proposal for amending the constitution.[1] Nearly all initiatives proposed by opposition members for inclusion on the parliamentary agenda were summarily rejected. In 2011, the parliament also continued to function without a deputy speaker who, according to the rules of procedure, should have been appointed from the ranks of the opposition after the 2008 parliamentary elections. The process of amending the parliament's rules of procedure is currently ongoing, with the envisaged changes tackling the structure of individual committees, the formation of subcommittees and efforts to empower opposition party participation in parliament.

In 2011, the government took steps to reform the legal framework governing the civil service, passing amendments to the Law on General Administrative Procedure, as well as a new law on civil servants and state employees. In November, a new provision of the Law on the Prevention of Conflict of Interest entered into force, prohibiting members of parliament from serving as directors of state administrative bodies or as members of other managerial bodies at both the national and local levels. In practice, this mostly prevents parliamentarians from serving on boards of public enterprises, institutions, and agencies.

Currently, the parliament employs 90 persons (48 civil servants and 40 state employees) – 17 more than at the end of 2010. Parliament also has 8 advisors to the speaker and the deputy speaker, as well as 10 interns. In the second half of 2011, administrative staff of the parliament went on strike due to inadequate salaries. The strike coincided with an initiative by the parliamentary collegium (a consultative body convened by the speaker) to increase the MP's salaries by €900 per month, almost twice the average salary in Montenegro. Under public pressure, the MPs gave up on their planned bonuses, and the administrative staff received a modest wage increase.

Cooperation between the parliament and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) increased in 2011, with NGOs participating in 40 committee sessions, including consultative hearings. Parliament signed a cooperation memorandum with the network of civil society organizations dealing with democracy and human rights, while the parliamentary administrative staff established a data registry of NGOs interested in cooperation. The parliamentary service also began to issue semi-annual reports on legislative activities and stream plenum sessions live on the internet. Data on individual MP votes are published on the parliament's website.

Electoral Process:

Montenegrin citizens experience notoriously high pressure from political party structures during election campaigns, and ruling parties routinely abuse state resources to advertise themselves and denigrate their opponents. "Vote buying" (a sophisticated and highly developed system of temporary seizure/buying of personal documents) is reported in all national elections. Also, promises for different kinds of permits, business approvals, positions, etc. makes the whole process a stock exchange for votes, in which the ruling party/coalition controls the overall system. Montenegro's next parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled to take place in 2013.

After nearly four years of deadlock, in September 2011 Montenegro's parliament finally passed the election legislation ensuring "authentic representation of minorities" (a requirement set by the 2007 constitution) in parliamentary elections. Under the constitution, these changes – which had been specifically identified by the European Commission (EC) as a prerequisite for the initiation of accession negotiations – required a two-thirds parliamentary majority to pass. Rather than demanding the correction of serious and longstanding abuses in the electoral process, the opposition used its unusual leverage to achieve small, technical improvements and a symbolic, nationalist victory – the establishment of Montenegrin-Serbian as the official language of education in Montenegro. The amended Election Law included certain provisions to promote gender equality by mandating that 30 percent of the candidate list be female. However, according to the 2011 EC Progress Report, these rules are ineffective because the law does not stipulate that candidates of each gender should be ranked high enough on the party list to have a realistic chance at a mandate.[2]

Montenegro is home to some 30,000 citizens of the former State Union of Serbia and Montenegro who declined Montenegrin citizenship in 2006. The question of these residents' legal status and ability to vote remains very contentious, as Montenegro's constitution does not recognize dual citizenship. New amendments to the 2008 Law on Citizenship in 2011 attempted to address the issue by simplifying naturalization for non-citizen residents, who are no longer required to "waive" their previous citizenship if they can submit proof by February 2012 that they resided in Montenegrin territory for a full 2 years before the promulgation of independence.

Four to five sustainable political coalitions/parties regularly participate in Montenegrin elections. Other participating parties are officially registered but lack strong party infrastructures. Parliamentary parties receive public financing, which some manage more prudently than others; extra-parliamentary parties depend on volunteers and member enthusiasm for survival. Meanwhile, in addition to state resources, the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) benefits from the fact that it has taken over much of the property once owned by the former Communist party of Montenegro.

The public is quite engaged in political life, with a tradition of high voter turnout. NGOs participate in political discussions to a much greater extent than their counterparts in any other country of the region. Minorities are well represented in political institutions, with the exception of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian populations. Minority political parties work predominantly in coalition with the ruling parties.

Civil Society:

Nongovernmental organizations operate without state interference in Montenegro, and increased communication between the government and the civic sector is an official priority of the current administration, initiated with the opening of the consultation process with nongovernmental organizations by new Prime Minister Luksic. Historically, government cooperation with external experts and activists has been limited. Nowadays, NGO representatives have been included in various working groups or consulted, but their suggestions and comments are often not respected.

In a highly publicized effort to address the lack of meaningful communication between the government and civil society, in 2010 the government established a new advisory body composed of governmental appointees and civil society representatives selected by the NGO sector. The Council for the Cooperation between NGOs and Government became fully operational in early 2011. Appointments to the council passed without objections, owing to the clear rules of procedure that were strictly implemented. It remains to be seen how effective the Council will be in transmitting the needs of civil society to policymakers.

In March, representatives of the Network of NGOs for Democracy and Human Rights signed a memorandum of understanding with the president of the Montenegrin parliament. The agreement entails a commitment on the part of parliamentary committees to invite NGO representatives, via the network, to take part in sessions of parliamentary committees relevant to their work.

The regulatory environment in Montenegro is favorable to the development of the civil sector, and was further strengthened in 2011. A new law on nongovernmental organizations, passed in August 2011, improved the legislative framework for the establishment and work of NGOs, aligning it with international standards (the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms, in particular) and best practices. It granted NGOs greater financial stability through guaranteed government funding related to the national lottery. However, a separate law on lottery games under discussion at year's end might reverse the August regulation, eliminating guaranteed lottery funding for the civil sector. In December 2011, the government approved a decree regarding the procedures for cooperation between state authorities and nongovernmental organizations.

Most Montenegrin NGOs are small, characterized by underdeveloped organizational structures and insufficient human resources. However, at the national level there is a small but influential core of well-established, organizationally mature NGOs, engaged mainly in advocacy and research on human rights, good governance and poverty reduction.[3] These larger, better established organizations rely on foreign funds, mostly from the EU. Smaller organizations depend on domestic funding, which is inconsistent and often insufficient.

Allocation of public funds for NGOs remains controversial. There is a need for more transparent and criteria-based procedures for distribution of these resources at the national and local level, and for mechanisms to monitor the allocation procedure and realization of approved projects. The government's plans to significantly decrease public funding in 2012 could dramatically affect the development of the sector, especially for small and medium-sized NGOs.

Independent Media:

Media legislation in Montenegro is largely in line with European standards. Montenegro's constitution and accompanying media laws protect freedom of expression and press freedom, and defend the right of journalists to protect their sources.

In practice, journalists still lack protection from violent retribution when their reporting threatens powerful interests. None of the attacks on journalists in the last five years has been resolved, nor have the perpetrators been punished. Even the notorious 2004 assassination of Duško Jovanović, editor-in-chief of the hugely popular daily newspaper Dan, did not result in a complete investigation or prison sentence. Physical attacks on editors and journalists discourage investigative journalism, particularly as it concerns politicians and members of organized crime.[4] In 2009, the editor-in-chief of the daily Vijesti, Mihailo Jovović, and photojournalist Boris Pejović were assaulted and threatened with a gun by the mayor of Podgorica and his son while covering a story on the mayor's illegal parking. In September 2011, prosecutors indicted Jovovic, whose own injuries landed him in the hospital, for attacking the mayor's driver; charges against the mayor and his son were reduced. The case is ongoing. On three occasions between July and August 2011, unknown individuals set fire to company vehicles owned by Vijesti. The perpetrator(s) of these crimes have not been found, and there are no signs of progress in the investigation. Some link[5] the attacks to statements by former Prime Minister Milo Đukanović in which he called independent media unprofessional and politically motivated.[6]

Montenegro's oldest daily newspaper, the state-owned Pobjeda, should have been privatized in line with the Media Law of 2002. However, after several failed tenders it still remains in state hands. The majority of print and electronic media are privately owned, but clear regulation on excessive concentration of ownership is still lacking. Most media outlets are financially unstable, and thus vulnerable to demands of advertisers and pressure from the government. Most electronic media, especially digital television stations, have serious debt and face an uncertain future. Loyalty to the government is rewarded with more generous public funding allocations, which aggravates the already difficult financial situation of both print and electronic independent media. The quality of media reporting in general has decreased and is increasingly influenced by political and economic interests, resulting in widespread self-censorship.

In accordance with priorities defined by the EU, the government decriminalized libel in July 2011. However, fines against media and individual journalists remain much higher than those established by the case law of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR). In November, the ECHR ruled that Montenegro had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by fining journalist Veseljko Koprivica €5,000 for defamation in 2004. Lawsuits against journalists are most frequently initiated by representatives of political and business elites, as well as persons widely suspected of involvement in organized crime.

Professionalism of Montenegrin media is also lacking in many cases. Media tend to take a political role in deciding whose voice should be heard and to what extent based on their own preferences, and do not report objectively. As a result, despite the large number of media options, they produce a limited range of political and social viewpoints.

Journalists have failed to form strong professional associations. Most prominent journalists and media owners still do not recognize the self-regulatory body that monitors implementation of the Journalist Code of Conduct, which is kept alive with funding from state authorities.[7] The government has also allocated €5 million to electronic media (to pay taxes for the signal transfer), as well as €800,000 to help Bega press, a privately-owned newspaper and distributor, pay a debt to the dailies Dan, Pobjeda, and Vijesti, and the weekly Monitor. Bega distributed these newspapers but fell months behind on payments.

Internet media are becoming increasingly important as the popularity of online news sources and communication grows. As internet use expands, online media are faced with the problem of unregulated user comments, which often contain defamatory content and occasionally hate speech against various social groups and individuals.

Local Democratic Governance:

The Constitution of Montenegro and the 2003 Law on Local Government define the foundations of the local government system. Local government is composed of 21 municipalities, including the capital city of Podgorica, two city municipalities, and the historic royal capital of Cetinje. Many municipalities are burdened with heavy administrative costs due to the bloated government sector, and local employees are often underqualified to handle their new responsibilities related to European integration and the decentralization process. Expectations are nevertheless high that municipalities will be able to apply for, receive, and manage significant financial resources from EU development funds.

Several significant pieces of legislation related to local self-governance were adopted in 2011, including the Public Administration Reform Strategy for 2011-16. The strategy outlines ambitious objectives for local self-government reform, including further decentralization, strengthened administrative oversight of local governments, and enhanced local financing. A subsequent Law on Regional Development, passed in April, defines legislation on coordinating efforts between local and central authorities for developing regional provinces. The 2011-16 development strategy for inter-municipal cooperation and the strategy's implementation mechanism, the 2011-13 Action Plan, were adopted in June, followed in November by the Law on Territorial Organization. The latter determines which territories belong to individual municipalities and the conditions for establishing, abolishing and merging municipalities. During the adoption process, several national minority groups formally asked that new municipalities be established, but in the absence of a positive feasibility study, the ruling majority rejected their requests. The territorial law was not yet enacted at year's end.

Under the Law on Local Government, local assemblies elect mayors. In the 2010 local elections, incumbents were re-elected in four municipalities, including Podgorica, where Miomir Mugoša won with votes from the coalition comprising the ruling DPS, the Bosniak Party and the Liberal Party of Montenegro, as well as three votes from opposition MPs. In the coastal town of Budva, Mayor Rajko Kuljača resigned in early 2011 after being indicted for allowing Zavala Invest, a company partly owned by Russian tycoon Sergey Polanski, to illegally construct about 40 villas at nearby Zavala Cape, Montenegro's leading summer resort. In April, the local DPS-Social Democratic Party (SDP) coalition elected Lazar Rađenović (DPS) as Kuljača's replacement. After a five-year term as the mayor of the Ulcinj municipality, Gzim Hajdinaga (DPS) was replaced by Nazif Cungu (Forca) with the support of the new parliamentary majority formed by four local members of parliament who left the Democratic Union of Albanians (DUA), one deputy from Perspektiva and one from the Movement for Change (PzP).

Local governments saw some political turmoil in 2011. In Andrijevica, traditionally governed by the Socialist People's Party (SNP) and other opposition parties, PzP councilor Uroš Čukić left the opposition coalition and joined the ruling DPS, fomenting a political crisis that ended with the DPS seizing the municipal presidency. Instances of local MPs "switching sides" from the opposition to the ruling coalition in Andrijevica and Podgorica, as well as unlikely cooperation between political parties at the local level in some municipalities led to accusations of corruption and bribery. It also raised questions about the legitimacy of local governments and the mandates of local MPs.

In Podgorica, the DPS-SDP coalition continued to struggle. Raško Konjević (SDP), president of the local assembly, resigned after the reelection of Mayor Mugoša. The fact that Mugoša, an official deeply unpopular with the political opposition's electorate, was reelected with three opposition MP votes led the SDP to demand new elections, claiming that the opposition in the local assembly had been "bought" by the DPS and did not represent the will of the electorate.

There are tremendous financial disparities among the regions in Montenegro and different public spending rules. Per capita expenditures differ, as do the sizes of administrative staffs and their wages. Designed to reduce these disparities by redistributing wealth to the poorest regions, the Equalization Fund remained ineffective in 2011, with no functioning system in place to monitor results of fund distribution.

Municipalities are overstaffed and continue to suffer from inadequate financing and weak budget oversight. Amendments to the laws on local finances and property tax adopted in 2010 came into force in January 2011, resulting in a total budgetary revenue increase of 5.8 percent by the end of 2011. Of the 21 municipalities, 13 saw significantly higher revenues.

The control mechanisms for the budgets of local governments are inadequate. Municipal audits conducted in 2011 and years past revealed serious breaches of provisions in the Law on Local-Self Government, the Law on Public Procurements, the Law on State Assets and a number of other reoccurring irregularities. Though the EC notes improvements in the capacity and independence of the State Audit Institution (SAI),[8] it needs to hire more auditors to perform municipal audits. The system of internal financing controls within local governments is ineffective, as most municipalities have yet to name financial management and control (FMC) managers or staffed internal audit units. The SAI and other watchdogs have criticized the obligatory commercial audits performed in municipalities annually as inadequate and opaque.

The Law on State Property breaches the constitutional right of municipalities to manage their own property because it prevents them from selling local property without the approval of central authorities. In 2011, this led to conflicts between the municipalities and the Ministry of Finance, leading some mayors to publicly criticize the law.

The Union of Municipalities developed a model for decision-making procedures to facilitate citizen participation in public affairs and cooperation with NGOs. Its adoption is expected in 2012.

Judicial Framework and Independence:

Montenegro's judiciary is structured as a three-tier court system comprising 15 basic courts, two high courts, an Appellate Court and a Supreme Court. It also includes two commercial courts, an administrative court, and the Constitutional Court. In its 2011 Progress Report, the EC noted gains on judicial reform to reinforce the independence, accountability, impartiality and efficiency of judges and prosecutors, though significant challenges certainly remain.[9]

In July, parliament enacted amendments to the laws on courts, the Judicial Council, and the state prosecutor's office. These changes are part of an ongoing campaign to advance judicial independence in line with EU standards through depoliticization and merit-based appointments to judicial and prosecutorial councils and the state prosecutor's office. The amendments to the Law on the Judicial Council increased transparency by enabling the judiciary to participate in the appointment of judges. They also enable the council to participate in the process of proposing candidates for the post of Supreme Court president, the criteria for which were strengthened by the changes to the Law on Courts.[10] In June, the parliament also began drafting amendments to the constitution that would strengthen the capacity and independence of the Constitutional Court, among other reforms. However, the EC emphasized that officials must remain committed to implementing the enacted reforms and noted that a system for training judicial officials on new legislation and EU law is still pending.[11]

The new Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) took force on 26 August 2011 and is now applied in all Montenegrin courts. The code introduced several reforms, including a prosecutor-led investigation model and extended confiscation of criminal assets. However, the capacity of state prosecutors to implement the new legislation and monitor and coordinate law enforcement agencies remains limited. Enforcement of civil decisions is also weak. SIGMA, a joint OECD-EU initiative to improve governance in five Central European countries, noted that rule of law is not respected in general, as public bodies frequently refuse to execute court decisions issued against them.

Inefficiency remains a chronic problem in Montenegro's judiciary. Although the case backlog has decreased in recent years, the European Commission estimates the existence of some 12,000 old cases awaiting resolution. The new law on the right to a trial within a reasonable time has not been implemented effectively, and most complaints are denied.[12] To reduce the burden on courts and administrative bodies, a system of notaries was introduced in 2011. Hundreds of cases were postponed during the judicial administrative staff strike in the second half of 2011.

In addition to the ongoing prosecution of officials in the Zavala case, the state prosecutor's office indicted several well-known personalities of involvement in a major dug smuggling and money-laundering operation in 2011. These included Dusko Saric (brother of Darko, the top suspect in a drug smuggling case), Amina Kalic (wife of Safet Kalic, the top suspect in another huge case of drug smuggling), and Mersudin Kalic (Safet Kalic's brother). For the first time in Montenegro's history, authorities temporarily seized property belonging to defendants in these cases upon indictment.

Media reported on several prominent judicial misconduct cases during the year, including one involving the son of Podgorica's mayor. The case was given to the president of the Supreme Court, contrary to the usual practice of automatic, random allocation of cases. Another controversial trial involved the high-profile murder trial of chief police inspector Slavoljub Scekic. In the March verdict, Judge Slavka Vukcevic gave a ruling that was later refuted on technical grounds. Although Judge Vukcevic subsequently revised the verdict in line with the criminal code, she left the judiciary after public criticism from the minister of justice and the president of the Supreme Court. Because the Scekic murder trial was so prominent, this controversy highlighted the immaturity and unprofessionalism of the judiciary. Moreover, the EC, opposition and civil society say the judiciary still needs to demonstrate its independence and efficiency by, for instance, issuing final decisions on corruption and organized crime cases at all levels.

Four war crimes trials from the conflicts in the 1990s that led to the fall of Yugoslavia were underway in Montenegro in 2010 and early 2011. In each case, only subordinates, not commanders, were indicted. Furthermore, the state prosecution office failed to investigate and prosecute the chain of command. In June 2011, a trial of former Yugoslav People's Army officers charge with crimes against prisoners-of-war and civilians at the Morinj detention camp in 1991-92 ended in convictions, but these were overturned by the Court of Appeals, and a retrial was scheduled for 12 April 2012. By the end of 2011, everyone indicted in the trial for war crimes against civilians in the Bukovica region in 1992-93 – as well as a separate case regarding the deportation of Bosnian refugees in May 1992 – had been acquitted. The Court of Appeals subsequently overturned the Bukovica judgment in June 2011 for procedural reasons, and a retrial was underway at year's end. Also ongoing was the main hearing in the so-called Kaluđerski Laz case involving the murder of 21 ethnic Albanians who fled to Montenegro during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo. In sum, after as many as 20 years in some instances, there is no res judicata in a single war crimes case, and it seems unlikely that top officials will be charged or indicted. This reflects the reluctance of the Montenegrin judiciary to process war crimes cases objectively.

Corruption:

Despite some progress on anticorruption efforts in 2011, including legislative improvements, corruption remains widespread in many spheres, including local self-government, spatial planning, public procurement, privatization, education and health care, according to a July analysis by the government.[13] Implementation of anticorruption measures is weak, and the state remains heavily involved in the economy.[14]

The Law on Conflict of Interest was strengthened through several amendments in July 2011 to bring it in line with international standards, but implementation was uneven. Under the changes, MPs who served on the managing boards of public companies were required to step down by 1 November. Many proved extremely reluctant to do so and left only under intense public pressure. Most were replaced by colleagues from the same political parties.

The National Commission responsible for monitoring the implementation of the 2011-2012 Action Plan for the strategy for fighting corruption and organised crime adopted its first report in April. It approved new procedural rules enabling it to centralize complaints related to graft and public misconduct and request ad hoc reports on corruption from state agencies. In July, the government subsequently adopted revisions to the Action Plan that comprised 106 new provisions and improved indicators. However, the government has struggled to implement anticorruption measures. In its Progress Report, the EC noted that the newly revised anticorruption legislation has not been implemented.[15] The problem stems partially from the politicization of public institutions and their complicated organizational structures. In addition to the National Commission, Montenegro has 14 anticorruption bodies, with no clear partition of competences, according to the EC. The overall institutional and legal framework in anticorruption efforts should be reexamined, with the findings used to establish best practices to improve the coordination and implementation of anticorruption efforts.[16]

Montenegro has a huge public sector; the central government is the country's top employer, and public spending is 45 percent of GDP, considerably above average for an emerging market economy. Notwithstanding the pro-market rhetoric of its officials, the government still offers substantial subsidies to privatized commercial entities such as the Podgorica aluminum plant and the Nikšić steel mill. Ties between private companies close to certain governmental officials and budgetary allocations to the same companies are a cause of significant concern.

The government has made strides in improving the business climate by streamlining procedures for business registration, but companies still face considerable red tape. The procedures for obtaining a construction license, for instance, are opaque and thus vulnerable to graft. In The World Bank's Doing Business 2011 report, Montenegro ranked 173 of 183 economies in "Dealing with Construction Permits," though Montenegro's overall ranking in the survey was 56.[17]

Most prosecuted corruption cases involve abuse of power and bribery. In June, nine people were sentenced in first instance on these charges in a cadastre case. Overall in 2011, three cases were initiated against 28 defendants accused of abuse of office and bribery, including the high-profile "Zavala" case involving the Budva mayoral office. However, the courts have yet to establish a track-record of convictions in corruption cases, especially high-profile ones, according to the EC.[18]

The public still considers certain forms of corruption socially acceptable, and the need for a systemic anticorruption effort remains under-recognized. Legislation to protect "whistleblowers" would be an important step in motivating public officials to speak out against graft and misconduct.

Author:

Daliborka Uljarević

Daliborka Uljarević is a political scientist with extensive experience working with international organizations, media and NGOs in Montenegro. She is Executive Director of the Centre for Civic Education.

Stevo Muk

Stevo Muk is a lawyer with a long track record of work in the civil sector in Montegro in various capacities. He is president of the Managing Board of the Institute Alternative.

Notes:

[1] Parliament of Montenegro, Performance Report 2010 (Podgorica: Parliament of Montenegro, February 2011), in English at http://www.skupstina.me/cms/site_data/SKUPSTINA_CRNE_GORE/OSTALO/publikacije/Perfomance%20Report%202010%20final%20za%20sajt.pdf. Parliament of Montenegro, Semi-annual Performance Report 2011 (Podgorica: Parliament of Montenegro, July 2011), in Montenegrin at http://www.skupstina.me/cms/site_data/SKUPSTINA_CRNE_GORE/OSTALO/publikacije/Izvjestaj_polugodisnji_2011-3.pdf.

[2] European Commission, Montenegro 2011 Progress Report (Brussels: European Commission, 12 October 2011): 6, http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2011/package/mn_rapport_2011_en.pdf.

[3] Technical Assistance for Civil Society Organisations (TACSO), Needs Assessment Report: Montenegro (Podgorica: TACSO, October 2011), http://www.tacso.org/doc/MN_NA_Report.pdf.

[4] Interview with Mr Nedjeljko Rudovic, editor of political affairs at "Vijesti", 20 November 2011.

[5] Informal paper by Zeljko Ivanovic of Vijesti and Milka Tadic Mijovic of the weekly Monitor, distributed at a 2010 conference by the Centre for Civic Education called "Montenegro on the way to the EU: where do we stand."

[6] During the summer, Djukanovic gave two interviews, one for the daily Pobjeda and the other for Belgrade-based TV Kosava. In both cases, he criticized the work of independent media, which he accused of "trying to stir chaos in the DPS [party]." http://www.dps.me/component/content/article/35-vijesti/373-milo-za-pobjedujul2011.

[7] The Self-regulatory body is supposed to monitor the implementation of the Journalistic Code of Conduct and to react when professional standards are violated.

[8] European Commission, Montenegro 2011 Progress Report, 74.

[9] Ibid., 10.

[10] Ibid., 10.

[11] Ibid., 12.

[12] Ibid., 12.

[13] Ibid., 13.

[14] Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2011 (Berlin: Transparency International, October 2011), http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011//cpi/2010/results.

[15] European Commission, Montenegro 2011 Progress Report, 13.

[16] Ibid., 58.

[17] The World Bank, Doing Business 2012 (Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 20 October 2011), http://www.doingbusiness.org/.

[18] European Commission, Montenegro 2011 Progress Report, 58.

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