Agency for Prevention of Corruption

Speech by the Director of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption Ms. Jelena Perovic at a press conference

Feb. 28, 2022

Together, we have witnessed how many obstacles and challenges 2021 has brought with it, more than any year in a long line backwards. The atmosphere of expressed social and political instability, endangering democratic values and standards and lowering the level of dialogue culture, and, consequently, slowing down Montenegro's path to the European Union, affected the quality of life of all of us and further emphasized the importance and role of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption.

With a strong belief in the mission of protecting the public interest, we have invested all our efforts in affirming the rule of law, non-selective implementation of anti-corruption laws and improving integrity. With the dedicated work of our team, I believe that we have served as an example of how strong and independent institutions, which inherit European principles and are based on legal work, can be the most effective barrier to corruption and guarantor of promoting the rule of law.

We are glad that our will, effort and performance have been recognized by international partners, giving us help and support. I will remind you that we are the best rated institution in Chapter 23 of the accession negotiations with the European Union, and that the European Commission stated in the Progress Report for 2021 that the Agency with its new leadership "showed a more proactive approach, especially in strengthening its communication and reaching out to the general public, the media and civil society and in resolving unresolved cases from previous years”.

Faced with continuous and intense pressures from all sides of the political spectrum, but also from the institutions of the system, which culminated at the end of the year taking on the character of a personal attack on me, as Director, we preserved institutional independence, not allowing the imposition and interference of politics in our actions. How successful we have been is shown by the results that I will introduce you to.

In 2021, the Agency received 10,657 Reports on Income and Assets on various grounds, the most since the existence of the institution - the number is given so you can understand the scope of work. All Reports were published on our website after the administrative and technical check. The accuracy and completeness of the data was checked in 974 of them, which exceeded the Annual Verification Plan by 10%, while we, acting on requests and ex officio, began to control an additional 145 Reports. In addition, 20 high-ranking public officials were checked, in accordance with the degree of vulnerability of the function to corruption.

Noticing the space for more complete use of legal powers, along with understanding the essence of the fight against corruption, we have started the monitoring of the lifestyle of public officials.

In accordance with the law, the Agency initiated 1,164 misdemeanor proceedings from January 1st to December 31st, 2021, twice as many as in 2020. Of that number, 237 proceedings concerned former public officials, who did not submit a Report on Income and Assets after the termination of their function within the legal deadline, and 146 for new public officials who did not fulfill that obligation upon taking office. Due to possible violations of the Law on Prevention of Corruption, we have initiated administrative proceedings against 46 members of the Parliament of Montenegro, 90 judges and 34 prosecutors for submitting Reports on Income and Assets for 2020 with inaccurate and incomplete data. After we initiated proceedings against the Prime Minister and seven ministers of the 41st Government of Montenegro at the end of 2020, in 2021 we - the numbers coincidentally coincided - prosecuted both the Prime Minister and seven ministers of the 42nd Government. These are obvious proofs of our non-selective approach, as well as an essential message about the zero degree of tolerance for breaking the law.

In total, the Agency initiated 345 administrative proceedings against public officials, which is 71.6% more than in 2020. Violations of the law were found in 89.3% of cases, significantly more than before. The confirmation of quality is that none of our decisions have been abolished.

We continued to implement the recommendation of the European Commission on the direct imposition of fines for violating anti-corruption laws, so in 2021 we issued 136 misdemeanor orders, which is 32% more than the entire three-year period from 2018, when we started this practice.

The total amount of fines imposed is close to 150,000 euros, which is two thirds more than in 2020.

In the area of preventing conflicts of interest and restrictions in the performance of public functions, in 2021, the Agency issued 186 opinions. Here, too, progress has been made compared to 2020, by 38%. Based on our opinions and decisions, 26 public officials have resigned.

We have also shown concern for the public interest by using the corruption proofing of legislation as an important anti-corruption mechanism. With the application of the highest European standards, we have identified legal norms that can lead to systemic corruption, and issued 10 opinions, three more than in the previous three years in total. Our opinions on the Law on Civil Servants and Employees, as well as the Law on the Prosecutor's Office, coincided with the opinion of the Venice Commission, i.e. the European Commission, on these important systemic legal acts.

Through participation in working groups, we have made a full contribution to the drafting of the Law on amendments to the Law on Lobbying, international restrictive measures, as well as on confiscation of property acquired by crime and property of illegal origin. In addition, we addressed the Parliament of Montenegro with an initiative to amend the Law on Misdemeanors, in order to improve the legal framework and gain formal conditions for the implementation of the Law on Financing of Political Entities and Election Campaigns.

In the application of another important tool, integrity plans, our achievements were confirmed by the OECD Competitiveness Report for Southeast Europe, which, thanks to the Agency's efforts, stated that Montenegro has the most developed system of support and monitoring of these plans, with a score of 4.5 of the maximum 5, by far the best in the region.

About how much trust citizens have in us, expressed through the results of public opinion polls, will be discussed later. In 2021, we received 142 reports from whistleblowers, which is almost 90% more than in the previous year, and, on an annual level, the most since its establishment, and this shows that the quality of our work is really recognized. Only 28% were submitted anonymously, significantly less than in the previous three years, which is another indicator of growing trust in the institution and increasing the level of information and awareness of whistleblowers, which led to more substantial and high-quality reports.

Acting in accordance with the law, by monitoring and supervising election campaigns in five Montenegrin municipalities, in consultation with the NGO sector and international partners, the Agency contributed to calming growing political tensions and strengthening citizens' trust in the election process.

In terms of defining priorities, with the support of UNDP experts, we adopted the Strategic Plan for the period from 2022 to 2024, accompanied by the Action Plan, in which we clearly stated our mission and vision and defined priority strategic goals for the coming period. Thus, the obligation from the Draft Program of Montenegro's Accession to the European Union 2022-2023 has been fulfilled.

All this was done in conditions in which, in accordance with the adopted systematization, we lack 21 employees. Aware of the need for further institutional development and increasing the level of potential use, we launched a process of analyzing the legislative framework in order to find ways to exclude the obligation to obtain the consent of the Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare in hiring new employees and executing the budget. This would make our independence complete.

No matter how proud we are, we see the results we presented to you as an stimulant for institutional upgrading and a kind of obligation to continue with dynamic action and development this year and exceed the level from the previous one.

Finally, let me also thank our international partners for their support and cooperation, the civil sector and the media, who have recognized and respected our reform commitment and results, and with whom we have built a partnership of understanding and complementarity.

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