Law on Prevention of Corruption needs to be revised to provide adequate protection for whistleblowers, and there is a good legal framework when it comes to conflict of interest, but certain provisions need to be improved to facilitate its practical implementation.
This was announced at the panel discussion "Prevention of conflicts of interest and protection of whistleblowers in Montenegro", organized by the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI).
The President of Governing Board of CeMI, Zlatko Vujović, assessed that in the past more than a year, since there have been changes in the leadership of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption, a lot of good things have been done and that the situation has improved.
"I believe that the change in the leadership of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption has led us to an approach where there should be no political influence when it comes to decisions. It is precisely the lack of results in the fight against corruption and in the prevention of corruption that was the key reason for Montenegro's slow progress in the process of European integration", Vujović pointed out.
The Director of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption, Jelena Perović, said that the conflict of interest is important for that institution, stating that all reports related to the conflict of interest and whistleblowers note that "the rule of law is in the first place to the Agency for Prevention of Corruption and that should be in the first place to all citizens of Montenegro to which this applies."
"In 2021, we had 137 opinions regarding the conflict of interest, which is an exceptional data considering that we had fewer reports for the entire last year than during nine months of this year", Perović said.
She assessed that the results of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption are impressive in the field of protection of whistleblowers and when it comes to whistleblowers in general.
"This year we have the largest number of reports in the field of whistleblowers. In 2021, there have been 75 reports so far. "It strengthens our work and gives us an incentive to continue working, and it also gives us the faith that all our citizens trust an institution such as the Agency for Prevention of Corruption", Perović pointed out.
According to her, the Law on Prevention of Corruption defined the field of whistleblowers well, stating that the act is mostly in line with the EU Directive, "which is very commendable, and which will facilitate our entire work."
"The law defines the field of whistleblowers in articles between 44 and 77. It is defined what a whistleblower is and when the Agency for Prevention of Corruption can act on whistleblower’s reports. Whistleblowers can file reports to the Agency for Prevention of Corruption when they believe that the Law has been violated, and the Agency for Prevention of Corruption will act on all reports that are submitted to us", Perović said.
She said that any violation of rights can lead to endangering the public interest, stating that the protection of the public interest is a priority for all citizens of Montenegro, as well as the rule of law.
The State Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights, Bojan Božović, believes that comparative analysis, conclusions and recommendations based on countries and legal systems in the region are especially valuable in the studies.
"Therefore, it is important that we transfer good solutions and good conclusions, that the authors presented in their studied, into the legislative and factual framework, in the shortest possible period when implementing all of this", Božović said.
He invited all informal members of the Chapter 23 working group to attend thematic sessions when this topic is on the agenda.
"The goal is for this society to achieve zero tolerance through anti-corruption laws and anticorruption measures", Božović pointed out, saying that all the people in the department that he represents are on the way to correct certain things.
The panel presented studies "Comparative analysis of the Montenegrin legislative and institutional framework in the field of whistleblower protection with recommendations for improvement" and "Study in the field of conflict of interest in Montenegro with a comparative overview of the legal framework and recommendations for improvement".
The author of the study, Marijana Laković – Drašković, said that within the general and democratic processes in Montenegro which include changes in the political, economic and legislative system, the fight against corruption is a significant part of Chapter 23 - Judiciary and Human Rights.
"Apart from the establishment of an independent, efficient judiciary and the protection of human rights, special attention is paid to the fight against corruption, both to the prevention and repression of corruption", Laković pointed out.
She pointed out that despite the expectations of the EC to amend the Law on Prevention of Corruption, in order to ensure greater protection for persons to report irregularities and thus encourage citizens to report, that act was not included in the work program of the Government for this year, "and it is a matter of concern that it was not included even in the program of accession of Montenegro for the next three-year period."
Laković Drašković explained that the adoption of the Directive on the protection of persons who report violations of EU rights provides a high degree of protection to persons who report violations of rights.
"The directive was adopted on October 23, 2019 and entered into force on December 16 of the same year. Member States have an obligation to implement it by December 17 of this year, and to establish channels for internal reporting, when it comes to the part of the Directive that refers to the obligation of legal entities in the public sector that has more than 50 employees, by December 17, 2023’’, Lakovic-Draskovic stated.
She assessed that Montenegro has a good legal framework when it comes to conflict of interest, stating that due to the practical implementation there is a need to improve certain legal solutions in a way that certain provisions would be revised and thus would facilitate practical implementation.
"The goal of publications is to provide Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights and the Agency for Prevention of Corruption with support in finding adequate and purposeful solutions to meet the amendments to the Law on Prevention of Corruption in finding adequate and purposeful solutions for improving the legal framework in the area of conflict of interest and whistleblower protection", Laković-Drasković said.
She explained that the studies share the EC's positive view that as a result of recent changes in leadership of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption, the institution has taken a proactive approach to the challenges of independence, integrity, impartiality and transparency, nonselective approach and quality of its decisions, improving the overall performance.
"Also, the study shares the EC's opinion that improved results and public confidence in the Agency for Prevention of Corruption will depend on continued efforts of the Agency to ensure its integrity, and correct defects in decision-making, if needed," Lakovic-Draskovic added.
The event was held within the project "Support to decision makers in the implementation of anticorruption standards" implemented by CeMI in cooperation with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), Central and Eastern European Legal Initiative, Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives (BILI) and the Forum of Experts from Romania.