04 Dec 2012

MANS Network Reports Electoral Abuses in Montenegro

The NGO MANS Network for Affirmation of the Non-Governmental Sector has published a report on irregularities that the organisation has uncovered in its monitoring of the last parliamentary elections in Montenegro, which took place on 14 October 2012. The problems described in the report refer largely to inconsistencies in the voter registry and to the abuse of state resources in the pre-electoral period, in disrespect to provisions of the new Law on the Financing of Political Parties.

In a review of voter lists submitted to the central registry, MANS pointed out more than 14,000 duplicate registrations, and over 6,000 deceased that are still registered as voters. Overall, the organisation identified more than 25,000 doubtful voter registrations, close to 5% of the total number of voters in the country. Based on this figure, MANS warned against the danger of these registrations being exploited for electoral fraud and in the end significantly distorting election results. Politicians from the opposition also expressed their concern with this issue. In a press interview, Velizar Kaludjerovic, a representative of the socialist party SNP said: “Duplicate voters are not the only irregularities in the register. Only in Montenegro you can find that there are 512,000 voters registered in the election register, while the 2011 census showed 474,655 adult citizens in Montenegro”.

Other violations pointed out in MANS’s report were connected to the political finance legislation’s ban on increased public spending and on new hirings by government agencies during the electoral period. Through dozens of requests based on freedom of information legislation, MANS received and analysed data on budgetary spending from several government agencies and found evidence that specific social benefits, such as housing assistance and benefits for the purchase of school textbooks, and delayed compensations by the government were disbursed during the electoral period. Their monitoring also uncovered evidence that these benefits were potentially paid out based on political allegiance to the ruling coalition. Regarding advertisements for new hirings in the public sector, the organisation identified over 120 jobs ads by government agencies, including for temporary hiring. MANS also reported the unlawful involvement of public officials in campaign events.

The report also showed how the new legislation on political finance has altered the behaviour of private companies in their relationship to politicians. According to the new law, companies that have had contracts with the public administration in the past two years are prohibited from making any donations to political parties; this is also valid for individuals representing or managing the company. In light of the new restrictions, such companies have started to make “donations” directly to governments during the elections, in that they finance and conduct public works such as the construction of roads and government facilities without public tenders, while the inauguration of the new facilities is used by government representatives as campaign events.

The report’s findings are a clear example of the gap between legislation and implementation that exists in Montenegro, similarly to several other developing countries. Despite successful efforts to improve legislation, corruption and misuse of public resources to benefit government parties continues to be a major problem in the country. In its watchdog role, MANS has attempted to contribute also to improve enforcement of the existing legislation, but has faced resistance from the authorities. The organisation has filed complaints and reported the identified irregularities to the State Electoral Commission (DIK) and the State Auditing Agency (DRI), which are established in the Law on the Financing of Political Parties as responsible for implementing the legislation, but these authorities have declined jurisdiction to handle the reported cases. The State Prosecutor’s office also declined responsibility to prosecute the cases, except those related to excessive budgetary expenditures. Since the law establishes somewhat vague criteria on how to handle violations, prosecution depends on the will of existing institutions, and there is much discretion regarding the applicability of punishment.

The organisation has submitted the report to several foreign organisations, including the delegation of the European Union in the capital Podgorica, ambassadors of EU member states and the USA, as well as the delegations of the UN and OSCE in Montenegro.

The picture featured above is from SETimes.com and is credited to Reuters.