After a six-month delay, the National Assembly of Serbia elected members of the Board of the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption. For citizens, whose trust in state institutions is decreasing with years, this news may sound irrelevant. However, this Board is the only body that has the competence to control the work of the Director of the Agency, but also to decide on appeals against decisions made by the Director, in accordance with the Law.
According to the new Law on Prevention of Corruption, which has been in force since September 2019, this independent body is one of the important bodies, when it comes to the fight against corruption.
Initially, the deadline for the election of the members of the Board was on September 1. However, a public competition was announced in October, the candidates were tested in February, while the Parliament of Serbia elected new members at the end of March. This six-month delay has not been explained.
In addition to this delay, which made the Board inoperative, certain questions regarding the election of the members arose – was the process transparent enough?
The Law on Prevention of Corruption stipulates that the announcement of the public competition for the election of a member of the Board of the Agency shall be published in the “Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia” and at least one public media outlet with nationwide coverage, as well as on the websites of the Ministry, the Agency and the Judicial Academy.
In this case, it was published in the low-circulation daily newspaper “Politika” and on the websites of the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Academy. There was no sign of a public media outlet with nationwide coverage.
Zoran Gavrilović from BIRODI for EWB estimates that the process of election, as well as the public competition, was not transparent enough.
“That public competition had not been promoted enough. When you look at the application list of candidates, you can see that they are people who are, in some ways, connected with the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, but also people who had business relations with the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Academy,” says Gavrilović.
According to him, that brought into question the integrity of the entire process, but also the integrity of the elected body.
The concept of professional integrity was not applied in the selection process
The new Law on Prevention of Corruption introduced election requirements for members of the Board of the Agency.
Article 21 stipulates that “a person may be elected as a member of the Board of the Agency if she meets the general requirements for employment in state authorities, holds a degree in law and has a minimum nine years of experience in the field, and has not been convicted for a criminal offence to a prison term of a minimum of six months or for an offence that renders him/her him unworthy of public office.”
The article further stipulates that “a member of the Board of the Agency may not be a member of a political party and/or political entity, and is subject to the same duties and prohibitions that apply to public officials under this Law.”
Some critics of the Law are pointing out that nothing is being said about the desirable characteristics, i.e. criteria and elements of professional integrity of the candidate.
Also, the Law does not stipulate the obligation to regulate conflicts of interest among members of the Board with candidates.
As Zoran Gavrilović points out, the model taken over from BIRODI for local bodies gives clear criteria for the selection of people who will guarantee the application of the law with their integrity, which in this case was not respected.
“The integrity of the Board depends on the way it is chosen. The model offered by BIRODI for local bodies has just given clear criteria on how to select those people who will guarantee the application of the law with their professional knowledge and professional integrity, which includes control over the work of the Director of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption. How the current members were elected brings that into question and gives uncertainty”, says Gavrilović.
According to Gavrilović, the concept of professional integrity was not applied in the election of the members of the Board, but the concept of personal integrity.
“The issue of personal integrity is psychological, not professional. Such criteria according to which new members are elected additionally affect the uncertainty in the operation of the new Board. Due to the low transparency and the criteria set in this way, the competition did not serve to strengthen the integrity of the new body, but it is more about some kind of recomposition”, points out Zoran Gavrilović in front of BIRODI.
The European Commission’s Progress Report on Serbia states that limited progress has been made in the fight against corruption, which is the same assessment as in several previous years. Although the Commission commends the entry into force of the new Law, it was assessed that “in general, corruption remains a matter of concern, and a mechanism for effective prevention of corruption is still not in place”.
Zoran Gavrilović points out that a decline has been noticed in Serbia when it comes to the fight against corruption, “especially since a man close to the ruling party became the Director of the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption”.
“Therefore, if the new Board wants to show its integrity, it must reconsider the decisions of the Director of the Agency – whether he regulated his conflict of interest with the former party,” Gavrilović says.
He concludes, however, that the problem is that there are people in the current Board who have not been selected based on professional integrity and that this calls into question whether they will be able to perform that job.
This article was published as part of the project “Civil society for good governance and anti-corruption in southeast Europe: Capacity building for monitoring, advocacy and awareness-raising (SELDI)” funded by the European Union.