Montenegro: Good results in health sector, lack of checks and balances still present

Podgorica; Photo: Wikimedia Commons

PODGORICA – While the public health protection has so far been positive, the Coronavirus crisis has also shown the lack of transparency and imbalance between the state institutions, concludes the report Montenegro and the coronavirus – the state of the nation in the first six weeks, published by the Centre for Civic Education.

The report notes rather good results in the area of public health protection, thanks to certain parts of the system that have demonstrated solid capacity to successfully manage this health crisis, as well as to accountability and discipline of Montenegrin citizens in respecting measures and complying with accompanying recommendations.

Amongst the positive but insufficiently media-communicated aspects, the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the process of returning Montenegrin citizens during the pandemic to Montenegro is highlighted. Also, it is noted that the educational system was promptly transformed in order to have pupils and students studying at home, which was accompanied by a great effort, enthusiasm and dedication in that system, as well as additional engagement of the parents themselves and different children’s approach.

However, the report also stresses that in Montenegro, even under regular circumstances, there is neither necessary checks and balances, nor the independence of those institutions which are formally and legally positioned as such. This imbalance was even more heightened in the first six weeks of the pandemic.

The report found that the Parliament was practically breathing on mechanical ventilation, without plenary session until few days ago, but also without the initiative to actively participate in solving the problem and to exercise its control function over the Government. The Government sent to the Parliament a report on activities in dealing with COVID-19 without any indication that there were any omissions or difficulties in the work of governmental bodies, in a laudatory tone, masterly avoiding all ‘inconvenient’ aspects, the report states.

It also found that the government’s work lacks transparency. There are no data on dates and content of seven sessions from 19 March to 24 April 2020, nor available integral materials from those sessions as it has been the practice so far.

Throughout the period, only few statements were published, from which we find out that ‘the Government of Montenegro adopted series of decisions without holding a session, based on the consent of the majority of its members’, and amongst these were decisions on issues that were not urgent. Neither of these decisions was to effectuate proposals of the critically oriented NGOs that participated in the dialogue through the Alliance for Europe initiative.

Interestingly, the report finds, no publicly expressed dissonant official position from the judiciary and independent institutions regarding the decisions and measures of the Government has been noted.

“Although it has stopped many important processes, the coronavirus pandemic has not affected the continued systematic ‘conquering’ of institutions defined by the legal framework as independent – such as the Agency for Prevention of Corruption and the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to information”, it reads.

The systematic violation of human rights was especially elaborated through the case of publishing the list of persons in self-isolation, then the application of contraversial Article 398 of the Criminal Code related to the spread of panic and public disorder, as well as measures that include a restriction on movement and ban on the gathering of citizens, which were enacted without conducting constitutional procedures for adopting such measures.

“Institutions in Montenegro have ‘stayed at home’ and remained silent vis-à-vis human rights violations. Concerning the application of measures and orders, the practice of sanctions has been inconsistent”, the report finds.