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Depoliticizing Montenegro's Senior Civil Service: Serving Party or People?

Podgorica

Montenegro still has to efficiently tackle politicization of its senior civil service, given the imprecise definition of political neutrality of civil servants and informal practices which might reverse the positive impact the new Law on civil servants and state employees was expected to bring.

Although the new Law on civil servants and state employees started implementing in January 2013, concerns over politicization of Montenegrin public administration are still present. In late 2012, less than a month before the start of the Law’s implementation, the then prime minister-designate asked for undated resignations from 148 people holding senior civil service posts. This move led the EU to warn against improper practice of recruitment and dismissal of public officials, which appeared to be further politicizing the civil service. In its 2014 progress report on Montenegro, the EU also warned of the importance of monitoring appointments and dismissals in public administration, especially with regards to senior managers. Therefore, the effect the new Law has had on depoliticization of the senior civil service is under question.

Despite the relatively ambitious aims of professionalizing appointments of senior managers and heads of authorities, deeper insight into the enforcement of this law reveals lack of its institutional underpinning, disobedience of state authorities and the continued existence of legal loopholes.

Weak regulatory framework

Montenegro does not have a definition of senior civil service. Yet, senior managerial staff and heads of administration authorities are de facto senior civil servants, since they are subject to special conditions and are not political appointees as ministers or state secretaries. However, the level of expertise required for these positions is low and not well elaborated. In addition, although both senior managerial staff and heads of authorities are de facto senior civil servants, their treatment is not consistent. For example, recruitment of heads of administration authorities, is regulated by the Law on Civil Servants and State Administration, while conditions for their dismissal are very vaguely regulated only by the Law on State Administration.

Political neutrality and impartiality of civil servants is under-regulated. As a result, key institutions lack criteria to assess the law violation in this respect, while the civil servants can easily find excuses for justifying their political activism. Also, In EU member states, rights and duties of civil servants running in the elections are more clearly regulated. For example, employees in German state administration need to take an unpaid leave if participating in elections. Once their political term is completed, however, civil servants are allowed to continue their work in state administration. The Montenegrin law has not tackled any of these issues.

Weak institutions

On average, each Montenegrin administrative inspector in 2013 had to handle more than 2,600 initiatives, illustrating the weak institutional capacities for enforcement of rules aimed at professionalization of state administration.

In other words, precisely the Administrative Inspection has the largest share of competences for oversight of the implementation of the new Law on Civil Servants and State Employees. Yet, the posts in this institution were only partially filled throughout 2013, with only four inspectors employed. On the other hand, the Inspection had to address more than 10,500 initiatives for performing inspection oversight. Most of these initiatives were also submitted by the civil society organizations and tackled the alleged irregularities of electoral roll ahead of the April 2013 presidential election.

Reluctance of institutions to efficiently perform their tasks coupled with their weak capacities result in the people’s apathy towards them. As a result, senior civil servants do not use official channels to protect their rights.

Low Expertise

Conditions for senior civil service posts do not allow for a higher level of expertise to be the defining feature of this layer of state administration.

The acts on internal organizations and systematization of state authorities are usually mere repetition of the legal provisions and do not further elaborate on the special requirements which senior cadre working in a particular domain, e.g. agriculture, should meet. Furthermore, a knowledge of foreign languages is not required for most of the analyzed positions. This might hamper the country´s exchange of know-how in policy making and implementation with other countries. Only holders of certain posts, usually tasked with international cooperation efforts, are sometimes required to be proficient users of English. The most striking examples are where senior civil servants are required to have the A1 (beginner’s) level of English (e.g. in Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development).

Adequate performance appraisal of senior civil servants is absent, leaving them unscrutinized and their results are unchallenged by the relatively impartial criteria. The new Law did try to advance performance appraisal of senior civil servants by prescribing specific criteria for the assessment of senior managerial staff. However, the first year of performance appraisal along these criteria has not delivered good results. Half of the ministries have failed to conduct any performance appraisals. Where conducted, performance appraisals largely neglected special rules for senior managers.

All these challenges and recommendations are in more details presented in policy paper Depoliticizing Montenegro’s Senior Civil Service: Serving Party or People, which is available on web page of Institut alternativa/Institute Alternative, one of the county’s leading think tanks, at the following link. The paper has been produced within the frame of the TRAIN Programme 2014 (Think Tanks Providing Research and Advice through Interaction and Networking), which is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office (Stability Pact for South East Europe) and implemented by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

About the author

Milena Milosevic works for Institute Alternative, Montenegrin think tank, as a public policy researcher, focusing on issues of public administration reform and functioning of the parliament.  She graduated journalism and communication studies at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Belgrade, in 2009. As a Hellenic Aid scholarship holder, in 2011 she obtained master degree from the English-speaking programme in South East European Studies at University of Athens.

In the past, she spent a year volunteering and part-time working for Centre for Investigative Reporting (CINS) in Serbia. During her studies in Athens, she also completed an internship at the Hellenic Centre for European Studies (EKEM). In 2012 and in 2013, she has been a part of Balkan Transitional Justice, a project run by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). In 2014, she spent one month at German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), as a research fellow, where she further advanced her research interest in public administrations of EU member states.

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