State institutions responsible for implementing reforms under the chapters 23 and 24 work with reduced capacity and interconnectedness, it was pointed out at the presentation of the "Institutional Barometer" of the coalition prEUgovor, held on December 7, 2018 in Belgrade.
Reforms in the areas of judiciary and fight against terrorism and organized crime, covered within chapters 23 and 24, are long-standing and important reforms for the well-being of Serbian citizens. They are essential for respecting human rights, fighting against corruption and building a genuinely liberal society. However, citizens rarely understand the content of these chapters and that is why the rule of law should be emphasized as a concrete concept, said the Head of Operations I of the EU Delegation to Serbia Nicolas Bizel at the opening of the event.
"The goal of the rule of law in a free and democratic society is to ensure and not to limit the enjoyment of rights, which is one of the main EU constitutive values", Bizel said.
Bizel estimated that the undertaking of the prEUgovor coalition, aimed at measuring the effects of reforms, will contribute to a huge degree to harmonizing the legal and institutional framework of Serbia with international standards.
STOP THE SILENCE OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
Dusan Sabic from the Center for Applied European Studies (CAES) presented the main findings on the work of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection. The analysis of the work of this institution is important because it is an independent institution that protects two constitutionally guaranteed rights and opposes capture, said Sabic.
The report shows a constant increase in the number of cases, Sabic pointed out.
"It is commendable that the ratio of received and resolved cases is almost 1:1, although the Commissioner carries over a significant number of cases from year to year. It is alarming that around 85% of complaints are related to situations where the authority ignores the request for access to information. The government did not respond in more than 170 cases when the Commissioner addressed it," Sabic warned.
Slavoljupka Pavlovic was representing the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection.
"Out of all complaints addressed to the Commissioner in the area of free access to the information, 85 - 90% are caused by silence of public administrations, and most often by the silence of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD)," she pointed out.
Pavlovic believes that awareness of employees must be raised in the institutions such as MoI and MoD, who will provide the requested information in the future in order to reduce the number of complaints.
LACK OF CAPACITY IN THE ANTI-CORRUPTION AGENCY
Zlata Djordjevic from Transparency Serbia (TS) presented the results of the analysis of the work of the Anti-Corruption Agency of Serbia (ACAS). The ACAS is working with 50 percent of the capacity taking into account the number of jobs planned by the systematization and noticeable departure of employees, while the absence of a formal managing body is an additional difficulty, Djordjevic pointed out. Consequently, the Agency cannot adequately respond to the tasks entrusted to it.
"Another shortcoming is the imprecise definition of the scope of work of the ACAS in the legislative framework and in the internal acts of the Agency. Inefficiency is heightened by the fact that the ACAS has the authority, but not the obligation to initiate proceedings against an authority that failed to submit data on its work," Djordjevic explained.
Djordjevic underlined that the ACAS should ascertain exactly which tasks it will perform as soon as possible, in what way and in which deadlines.
"The adoption of new legal provisions on the Anti-Corruption Agency and the financing of political parties is crucial to achieve tangible progress in Chapter 23. We are still waiting for a report on what has been done with individual officials who used their influence in the last year’s election campaign in order to promote their own political parties," Djordjevic reminded.
THE ASSEMBLY IGNORES THE REPORTS OF THE COMMISSIONER FOR THE PROTECTION OF EQUALITY
Tanja Ignjatovic from the Autonomous Women's Center (AWC) presented an analysis of the work of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, which has only 60% of the number of employees that was originally envisaged. Ignjatovic pointed out that almost half of the cases that the Commissioner receives refer to citizens' complaints, and that they are less submitted by the state structures which in most cases violate the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination. In 75% of cases, the actions are taken in accordance with the recommendation of the Commissioner.
"The big problem is that citizens still do not recognize discrimination or do not know how to report it. The Commissioner must focus more on marginalized groups," Ignjatovic said.
The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality Brankica Jankovic agreed that National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia plays the biggest role in terms of visibility of this independent institution.
"We need to pay more attention to those who do not respect the opinions and recommendations of the Commissioner as a state body, and the Assembly has great importance in that context. Our influence would be enhanced if the Assembly considered our reports and if MPs were aware of the importance of this mechanism which is available to them," Jankovic said.
Jankovic underlined the importance of cooperation with civil society organizations working with marginalized groups to raise awareness of all discrimination, especially of young people, who often don’t recognize this phenomenon.
CENTRE FOR TRAFFICKING VICTIMS PROTECTION WITHOUT ELEMENTAL CONDITIONS FOR WORK
Ivana Radovic from ASTRA - Anti trafficking Action presented an analysis of the work of the Centre for Trafficking Victims Protection. Radovic emphasized the enormous importance of this institution as a central mechanism for identifying victims of trafficking in human beings, coordinating assistance and determining the necessary services for victims.
However, Radovic warned that half of the Center's tasks could not be adequately realize due to an alarming lack of spatial and human capacities.
"The Centre for Trafficking Victims Protection is a striking example of the fact that the existence of a particular authority or institution on paper is often ensured, without the provision of elementary working conditions afterwards. So for the six years of existence of the Centre there is no shelter because there is no available space for these purposes," Radovic underlined.
Aleksandra Ljubojevic, director of the Centre for Trafficking Victims Protection, confirmed that the institution is functioning with 25% of the capacities, which is why civil society organizations are involved in the work so that their beneficiaries receive adequate assistance.
INSUFFICIENT INTERNAL CONTROL OF POLICE
Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) Researcher Sasa Djordjevic assessed the work of the Sector for Internal Control of Police (SICP) within the Ministry of Interior, whose task is to control whether employees work in accordance with the law and reduce corruption in the police.
Djordjevic pointed up that the conditions for the work of the SICP have not been met because there are not enough employees, spatial and technical capacities are not sufficient, and the legal framework does not allow the sector to operate independently. Performance would be improved if the number of employees increased and the political influence was reduced, Djordjevic concluded.
"The number of criminal charges against employees of the Ministry of Interior has increased, but there is no evidence of what is happening to them. There is no good communication between the SICP and the prosecution, which rejects a large number of charges", Djordjevic emphasized.
FOR IMPROVING WORK WITH REFUGEES REVIEW OF THE ACTION PLAN FOR CHAPTER 24 IS REQUIRED
Gordana Grujicic from Group 484 presented the results of the analysis of the work of the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration.
The work of the Commissariat was influenced by the adoption of the new Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection. Within the framework of internal efficiency, the creation of a database, regular reports from the reception centres of the Commissariat, as well as the fact that a program for learning Serbian language, culture, history and Constitution has been created are significant, it was emphasized by Grujicic.
Grujicic pointed to the need to review the existing organizational structure of the Commissariat and to recommend standardized questionnaires for the evaluation of services.
Marina Cakic from the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration noted that it will be necessary to implement the reform processes when the exact competencies of this institution are finally determined. She also pointed out the necessary revision of the Action Plan for Chapter 24 and the creation of new activities based on recommendations of the European Commission addressed to the Government of the Republic of Serbia.
Among the recommendations, Cakic emphasized the work aimed at reducing the number of asylum seekers from Serbia in the countries of the European Union and to strengthen the inclusion of refugees from the Middle East through learning Serbian language and culture and regulating their status when seeking employment.
The conference is a part of the project “prEUgovor Policy Watch: Monitoring Reforms in Chapters 23 and 24“. This project is funded by the European Union.
Coalition prEUgovor is a network of civil society organizations established to monitor policies related to the negotiations on Serbia's accession to the European Union, with special emphasis on Chapters 23 and 24. The purpose of the prEUgovor is to help the EU accession process to be used to achieve substantial progress in the further democratization of Serbian society.
Members of the prEUgovor are: ASTRA - Anti trafficking Action, Autonomus Women's Center (AWC), Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP), Center for Applied European Studies (CAES),Center for Investigative Reporting in Serbia (CIRS), Group 484 and Transparency Serbia (TS).
The main product of prEUgovor is the semi-annual report on Serbia's progress in chapters 23 and 24, and the coalition is also published by rEUformator - a monthly newsletter dedicated to developments in Serbia and the EU in the areas covered by these two chapters.