At today's session, the Council of the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption adopted the Report on the Work of the APC for 2021, as well as the Report on the Execution of the Budget of the APC for 2021.
The Council assessed that significant progress has been made in all areas of work, as evidenced by the fact that all the goals set by the APC’s Work Plan have been met, and in some areas have been exceeded.
In the area of preventing conflicts of interest and restrictions in the performance of public functions, in 2021, the Agency issued 186 opinions. Based on the opinions and decisions of APC, 26 resignations of public officials were submitted.
In 2021, the Agency received the most Reports on Income and Assets since the beginning of its work, while the Annual Verification Plan was fully implemented, with the number of planned verifications s exceeded. Six times more ex officio control procedures were initiated than in the previous year.
Violations of the law were found in all administrative proceedings initiated ex officio in the area of income and assets verification in the previous year. In the reporting period, due to the submission of Reports on Income and Assets with inaccurate and incomplete data, the largest number of misdemeanor proceedings was initiated since the beginning of work, more than in the previous five years of work in total. Significantly more misdemeanor proceedings were initiated due to violations of the provisions of the LPC, which refers to the obligation to submit Reports on Income and Assets 30 days after assuming public office and after termination of public office.
In the area of financing political entities and election campaigns, the Agency continued to operate in a planned and systematic manner, in order to consistently monitor the implementation of the Law and control the implementation and compliance with all prescribed prohibitions and restrictions during the election campaigns for local elections held in 2021.
In 2021, 6,512 reports were submitted by subjects to the Law on Financing of Political Entities and Election Campaigns on regular work and during election campaigns on all grounds of APC' s work in this area, in, as well as 354 controls of compliance with prohibitions and restrictions during the election campaign. In addition, 2,246 contributors to political entities for regular work in 2020 and the election campaign in 2021 were verified and controlled. In 2021, the Agency initiated 15.6% more misdemeanor proceedings in this area of work compared to the previous four years in total. The practice of regularly presenting the results of the work and publishing all relevant data and reports continued. The Agency made available all data on the use of public resources and campaign financing.
In the area of adopting and implementing integrity plans, a high degree of implementation of activities envisaged by the Work Plan can be identified, bearing in mind that 707 state authorities have adopted an integrity plan so far, and that in 2021 692 Reports on Implementation of Integrity Plans for the previous year were submitted. About 98% of the state authorities have appointed an integrity manager. Considering that the integrity plan is prone to subjective assessment of the authorities, it is necessary to externally assess the objectivity, quality and implementation of measures. Therefore, the Agency last year developed a Methodology for assessing the implementation of anti-corruption measures, in cooperation with UNDP. The methodology has the potential to become a very useful tool for assessing the effects of anti-corruption measures.
It is important to note that the OECD Report on the Competitiveness of the Western Balkans, published in 2021, states that Montenegro has the most advanced system of support and monitoring of integrity plans in the region.
Implementing the Law on Lobbying remains a challenge. Five natural persons and one legal entity are registered in the register of lobbyists. The APC’ Council concluded that, after the adoption of the new Law on Lobbying and all bylaws, it is necessary to start an intensive information campaign towards the general and professional public, especially when it comes to the most important changes to the Law.
In 2021, 142 reports by whistleblowers were submitted to the Agency, 89.3% more than in the previous year, and the most since the beginning of the APC's work on an annual basis. It is especially significant that out of that number, only 28.2% were submitted anonymously, which is less than in the previous three years. Given that a decline in the percentage of anonymous reports was registered at the end of 2020, this may indicate an increase in citizens’ confidence in the work of the institution, especially if we take into account the findings of public opinion polls, that states the highest percentage of confidence in APC’s work since its establishment (78.5%), and the Agency is still in the first place among the institutions to which citizens would report corruption.
Of the total number of completed proceedings conducted by APC based on whistleblower reports, threat to the public interest was found in 38.5% of the reports, which significantly exceeded the number of proceedings based on reports in which the existence of the threat to the public interest was determined in relation to the annual level of all previous years of APC. The reason for that can be found in the fact that the Agency has significantly contributed to strengthening the knowledge and awareness of whistleblowers about this important anti-corruption mechanism, and that, consequently, reports are more meaningful and significantly better than in the previous period.
The Agency initiated six ex officio proceedings, and continued and completed three ex officio proceedings from 2020, in which it determined the existence of threat to the public interest.
During 2021, five requests for protection of whistleblowers were submitted, and one procedure was conducted on the request for protection from 2020. In the reporting period, the Agency issued three Opinions in which it determined that damage occurred, i. e. that there is a possibility of damage to whistleblowers and gave a total of five recommendations to employers on what to do to remedy the damage. Providing adequate protection to whistleblowers remains one of the challenges, and it is necessary, in addition to the activities undertaken in this area by APC, to continue to encourage the active involvement of all state bodies, in order to fully ensure effective protection. The Agency will prepare a detailed analysis of the need and manner of harmonization of the LPC with the EU Directive on the protection of whistleblowers 2019/1937, with the aim of further improving the legal framework in this area.
During 2021, the Agency issued 10 opinions on regulations in the area of anti-corruption, five times more than in 2020 and 42.9% more than in the previous three years of work in total. Also, intensive work was done on improving the Methodology for corruption proofing legislation in order to determine the risk areas from corruption. At the initiative of the Agency, the Methodology on the basis of which APC plans its activities and conducts corruption proofing legislation in regulations is the subject of analysis by an international expert engaged in UNDP support to APC. The task of the expert is to make a comparative analysis of the need to introduce risk assessment of corruption as a mandatory part of the legislative process.
The Agency significantly intensified its work in the area of conducting administrative proceedings, thus initiating 345 administrative proceedings against public officials, as much as 71.6% more than in the previous year. The percentage of identified violations of the law in administrative procedures is significantly higher in 2021 compared to the annual level of the previous three years.
Due to violations of anti-corruption laws within its competence, the Agency initiated 1,164 misdemeanor proceedings in the reporting period, twice as many as in 2020, and significantly more than in the previous year. The European Commission (EC) recommendation on direct imposition of misdemeanor penalties for violating anti-corruption laws continued to be consistently implemented, so in 2021 as many as 32% more misdemeanor orders were issued compared to the number of orders issued during the previous three years. A total of 870 misdemeanor proceedings were completed (including proceedings on requests from previous years and misdemeanor orders executed), of which 89.4% were sanctioned. The total amount of fines, including executed orders, is € 149,242.
Cooperation between APC and NGO sector has been intensified and deepened and transparency strengthened through greater openness to the media. This is evidenced by the fact that the media image of APC in 2021 was markedly positive, with 832 positively intoned publications, more than the sum of the previous three years and twice the number of negatively intoned publications, which suggests that the challenge of negative perception in the media has been addressed.
The presented results of the work are also a consequence of the implementation of all methodologies, projects and expertise that the Agency continuously receives from international partners.
With the support of UNDP, an international anti-corruption expert was hired who, in cooperation with APC representatives, drafted a Strategic and Action Plan for the next three years, which defined priorities in the work of the Agency in the following period.
An expert mission of the European Commission was held in order to thoroughly analyze the work in all competencies of the Agency and comprehensively assess the progress of Montenegro in the area of corruption prevention. Most of the experts' recommendations referred to the need to improve the legal texts of the LFPEEC and LPC, as well as to strengthen human resources in terms of increasing the number of employees for certain areas of the Agency's work.
The EC Working Paper on the situation in Chapters 23 and 24 for Montenegro recognizes progress in the work of the Agency. The report states that "following the changes in the Agency's Council and its leadership in 2020, the Agency has started a proactive approach to the challenges of its independence, integrity, impartiality, transparency, non-selective approach and quality of its decisions, improving overall performance", which further encourages APC to continue with initiated reforms.
When it comes to the Report on the Execution of the APC's Budget for 2021, out of the total amount of 1,408,936.53 euros, 1,275,715.73 euros were spent, which means that the percentage of execution was 90.54%.
The Council of the Agency adopted the conclusion that in the following period, the results expressed in the Report will be additionally promoted and presented to the general public.