Montenegro

Transitional or Hybrid Regime
47
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 47.00 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 3.82 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
47 100 Transitional or Hybrid Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2022

  • National Democratic Governance rating improved from 3.25 to 3.50 due to the diffusion of political power and peaceful transition following the exclusion of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) from government after three decades of dominance, despite the flawed conduct of the new parliamentary majority and the government of Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić.
  • Judicial Framework and Independence declined from 3.50 to 3.25 due to growing dysfunction in the justice system as demonstrated by disruptions in the work of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court along with Parliament’s failure to appoint a new Minister of Justice and Prosecution Council for most of the year.

As a result, Montenegro’s Democracy Score remained the same at 3.82.

header2 Executive Summary

The first year of Montenegro’s new government—elected in 2020, and the first since independence to exclude the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS)—was troubled by the disruption of accountability among the branches of power. In 2021, the country’s 81-seat unicameral Parliament was sporadically boycotted by both the parliamentary majority and the opposition (now including DPS), which stands as a striking example of the profoundly complex political situation in Montenegro. Nonetheless, the dismissal of the justice minister over statements denying the Srebrenica genocide with votes from both the parliamentary majority and the opposition demonstrated a positive example of asymmetric voting and resilience. On the other hand, the government and new parliamentary majority did not hold up their promises to increase transparency and fight more effectively against corruption and clientelism. The slow reorganization of key ministries affected staffing at top positions in the public administration, which continued to lack sufficient capacity to pursue comprehensive reforms.

Deep frictions on issues of national identity and religion continued to dominate public discourse, causing sporadic incidents that reached a boiling point with the enthronement of the new leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in Montenegro. Political leaders exacerbated national and religious divisions over the country’s main Orthodox Christian confessions: President Milo Đukanović described the SOC as a “quasi-religious community,” while Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić called the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) the “so-called church.” In 2021, the new government was frequently accused of having a too-close relationship with the SOC and of endangering the secular character of the state. Nonetheless, relations with Serbian state authorities remained strained; the two countries were represented only at the level of chargés d’affaires, while the first official visit by PM Krivokapić to Belgrade failed to resolve open issues between the countries, chief among them the status of the SOC.

Amendments to the Law on State Prosecution raised controversies over alleged undue political influence on the newly reconstituted Prosecutorial Council and prosecutors. Yet the legislative changes introduced stricter conditions to prevent conflicts of interest and reduce corporatism among council members, potentially paving the way for the council to take a more proactive role in holding prosecutors accountable for poor results. However, the amendments were been effectively applied in 2021. The new Prosecutorial Council was appointed in December1 after a delay of six months in which the parliamentary majority was unable to reach an agreement about its composition. Gaps in the work of the judiciary were further widened by the retirements of more than 20 judges. The Supreme Court worked with a third of its full capacity and the position of justice minister remained vacant, all while the Constitutional Court’s work was blocked by a dispute over the dismissal of one of its judges. The appointments of the Supreme State Prosecutor and Supreme Court President were pending during the year, conditioned on the need for meaningful interparty dialogue. Political cleavages also stood in the way of electoral reform and passing related laws in Parliament. This stagnation was also reflected in the state of European Union (EU) accession negotiations: the 2021 European Commission (EC) report on Montenegro assessed progress as limited in 30 out of 33 chapters.2 The country has yet to reach interim benchmarks in the most critical areas—namely, Chapter 23 on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and Chapter 24 on justice, freedom, and security.

There were no breakthroughs during the year in the country’s election-related corruption affairs, such as the so-called Envelope Affair, which alleged illegal financing of the formerly ruling DPS. In October, the global “Pandora Papers” investigation implication President Đukanović, disclosing information about him and his son and their offshore trusts. However, Montenegro’s new police management and international police cooperation did receive praise from the EU in August for an unprecedented illicit drug seizure of more than a ton of cocaine.

Interim financing, which Montenegro introduced for the first time due to the delayed adoption of the state budget, adversely affected many areas, from public procurement to the financing of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Public competitions for NGO funding were published with considerable delays, hampering the work of civil society. Despite pledges to reform the media sector, the government did not pass any major changes in the field. Meanwhile, hate speech and attacks on journalists persisted during the year.

Montenegro’s democratic trajectory was troubled and tainted in 2021 by profound political and social cleavages. The practice of dividing public-sector spoils continued, instead of pursuing comprehensive reforms and policies that could attract unequivocal support from the ruling coalition and government members. Nevertheless, the loss of single-party monopolistic control brought some positive changes to parliamentary practice, such as the dismissal of the justice minister and appointment of a nonpartisan president to the State Electoral Commission. Still, the inability of political parties to reach agreement on top appointments to the judiciary holds the country hostage in both the EU integration process and much-needed results in the fight against corruption and organized crime.

Late in the year, focus shifted to questions about the economy and Montenegro’s standard of living with the announcement and adoption of the “Europe Now” program by the government. Although a welcome change in public discourse, these hasty, unthorough reforms may have adverse effects on the ground. Therefore, it is difficult to guess which direction the country may take going forward. The reluctance of DPS and Democratic Front (the largest constituent of the ruling majority) to undergo internal reforms makes broad cross-party consensus on key priorities less tangible.

header3 At a Glance

In Montenegro in 2021, following the historic political upset of the 2020 parliamentary elections, the newly formed government functioned without full support from the parliamentary majority that had provided its mandate; nevertheless, the government tried to achieve reforms while still practicing some of the politicization and lack of transparency of its predecessor. The electoral system remained unchanged with the same old shortcomings unresolved; meanwhile, several local elections took place with undisputed results. The civil society scene is vibrant yet would benefit from improved and more transparent financing from public sources. Media freedom is still hampered by frequent attacks on journalists and lingering unresolved cases of abuse. In the area of local self-governance, problems persist and multiply with no systemic reforms in sight. Regarding the justice system, the majority of institutions in the sector are not fully functional due to the inability of political parties to reach agreement on important appointments. While there have been attempts to fight endemic corruption and organized crime, the prosecution in Montenegro remains unreformed and is widely seen as the main obstacle to tangible results.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 3.504 7.007
  • The end of the lengthy rule of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in 2021, following the electoral upset of 2020, brought a new era of cohabitation between the party’s leader, President Milo Đukanović, and a government backed by a narrow majority of 41 out of 81 members of Parliament (MPs) from the Black on White, For the Future of Montenegro, and Peace is Our Nation electoral blocs, and helmed by independent Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić. Yet cohabitation turned into open confrontation on several occasions, with President Đukanović vetoing laws and diplomatic appointments. Most conflicts were resolved using constitutional mechanisms (with the parliamentary majority overriding the president’s vetoes) or by finding the least common denominator through negotiations. Đukanović still managed to stall the appointment of several ambassadors, as the Law on Foreign Affairs gives the president the power to appoint ambassadors upon the proposal of the foreign affairs minister.1 In November, the parliamentary majority voted in favor of an initiative to recall Đukanović, citing a breach of the constitution by endangering religious freedoms (see “Civil Society”); this motion was sent to the Constitutional Court, which must approve it before proceeding.2
  • On the other hand, the new government, which was formed in early December 2020, consisted mostly of technocrats unaffiliated with any party, and this lack of wide parliamentary support for the ministers bedeviled their relationship with MPs. Lacking ministerial positions, the parties created undue political pressure on formally expert positions within the public administration as well as state-owned enterprises (SOE). Many acting managerial positions, boards of directors, and CEOs in these enterprises were filled with persons with clear political affiliations. Politically exposed personalities occupied positions in the state administration in nominally expert positions—for example, heads of the Health Insurance Fund, administrations for diaspora and inspection affairs, and other public bodies—yet undue politicization most severely affected public enterprises. The managing structures of all state-owned enterprises were swiftly taken over by the new parliamentary majority, replacing personnel belonging to DPS and its partners with new people coming directly from new majority party structures and often without experience in either management or competences of the respective companies. These new management teams proceeded to significantly increase employment in many of the already overstaffed SOEs.3
  • The government, downsized to 12 ministries was slow to reorganize key portfolios. The Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare, for instance, took nearly seven months to adopt its organization and systematization act.4 This hampered the government’s overall efficacy, and important reforms were still pending at year’s end. Simultaneously, until October, only one public competition for a top managerial post in the public administration had been finalized, with many managerial positions still vacant or occupied on an acting basis.5 Public data showed a high turnover of senior civil servants after formation of the new government: 55 percent left their positions due to resignation or abolition/reorganization of the respective public body between December 2020 and June 2021.6
  • Disrupted lines of accountability between political parties, Parliament, and the government resulted in unsynchronized governance with no clear political platform. In some cases, this dynamic went against basic principles upon which the government was formed,7 most strikingly by the former justice minister, who denied the Srebrenica genocide and was dismissed by votes from both the parliamentary majority and the opposition.8
  • On a positive note, the work of Parliament was improved in terms of transparency.9 MPs were also relatively active in their oversight roles, although their legislative functions showcased many deficiencies. In December 2020, amendments to the Rules of Procedure envisaged that Parliament would be vice-chaired by at least one woman and representative of national minority parties.10 These provisions were implemented, with a woman serving in a vice-chair position for the first time in Montenegrin history. Changes also introduced the so-called minister’s hour and increased opportunities for opposition MPs to launch control hearings.11 A Parliament channel was launched to livestream committee sessions, which will considerably increase the openness of legislative work.12 Still, parliamentary oversight did not significantly improve, due partially to sporadic boycotts by parties of both the ruling majority and the opposition—namely, DPS, Democratic Front, and part of the For the Future of Montenegro bloc.13 On the other hand, MPs were very active in legislative activities, initiating more bills than the government itself (49 out of 97) from September 2020 to September 2021.14
  • MPs escalated their legislative initiatives, but these came without clear procedures for public participation or impact assessments. Such moves generated allegations that parliamentary initiatives were being used to bypass public debate, (which is mandatory for government-initiated bills), especially in the case of amending the Law on State Prosecution (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”).15 Additionally, the chair of the Committee on Human Rights and Freedoms did not allow a Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) representative to participate in discussions on amendments to the Law on Religious Freedom in late 2020, while allowing participation by other religious organizations, namely, the Islamic community, Jewish community, Catholic Church, and Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC).16 In this way, given the deep societal divide on religious issues among the orthodox community, which were exacerbated by the law’s adoption in 2019, Parliament clearly failed to help ease tensions.
  • Constant squabbles among the parties of the ruling majority and with the government caused a number of bills to be put on hold in parliamentary procedure for most of 2021, then they were hastily deliberated in a marathon session in late December where 67 bills were on the agenda.17
  • Frictions between the parliamentary majority and the government also delayed adoption of the 2021 budget, which was passed only in June.18 For the first time in its modern history, Montenegro introduced interim financing at the national level.19 Since the interim financing regime is not regulated in detail and allows spending only according to a month-to-month plan and servicing of basic monthly obligations, the country faced many problems during the first half of the year, including delays in implementing capital and agriculture budgets, problems in procurement in the health sector, and, at one point, the Police Administration was left without vehicles since their leases could not be renewed or extended.
  • Despite promises of transparency as one of the key principles of the new government, this situation did not improve and even backslid in some areas during the year. Only 12 percent of government proposals had undergone public debate before entering parliamentary procedure in the first nine months of 2021.20 Despite sporadic publication of important information following public pressure, transparency in decision-making and openness of public administration largely stagnated,21 while proactive publishing of information continued at the slow tempo of the previous government.22 The new government started the practice of holding numerous electronic sessions, with irregular publishing of materials to be deliberated or adopted, while at the same time rejecting initiatives for more transparency.23 The government proposed amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information in late 2021, more than a year after the prominent civil society organizations (CSOs) urged the changes to the law.24 The amendments incorporated some of civil society’s recommendations regarding the scope of proactively published information, including public finances. Nonetheless, they retained provisions which might be problematic in practice, such as those classifying trade and tax secrets, while adopting a more precise definition of these terms.25
  • As of December 2021, only 41.5 percent of Montenegro’s population was fully vaccinated against coronavirus.26 Mass vaccination commenced in May, when the country set a record in immunization per capita by administering almost 10,000 doses in one day.27 Nonetheless, the immunization pace gradually slowed, with the prime minister still unvaccinated and pandemic measures less restrictive than in 2020. Consequently, by October, Montenegro had perhaps the most COVID-19 infections per capita in the world.28 Both the prime minister and several cabinet heads openly breached measures on numerous occasions, as well as supported or tolerated the practice of religious gatherings that were deemed high risk for spreading the virus.
  • In November, the government adopted the “Europe Now”29 program, whose chief aims are to decrease tax burdens on employers and employees, increase the minimum wage, introduce a progressive income tax, and change how the healthcare system is funded (directly by the state instead of indirectly through tax collection and contributions from employers and employees). In order to compensate for the loss in revenues from abolishing healthcare taxation, the government introduced a number of new measures to raise revenues. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that such a plan carries significant risks and should be implemented in stages rather than a single-step approach.30 However, the government stayed the course, and Parliament approved the program through adoption of the 2022 budget and new tax laws. Yet, exposing mistrust between the government and the ruling majority, Parliament rejected certain measures of the program, such as the excise duty law, and curbed the government’s planned borrowing from €1.4 billion to €70 million.31 At the same time, legislative interventions by MPs were adopted that also carry considerable costs, such as universal child subsistence, compensation for former beneficiaries of the so-called Mothers’ Law, and an increase in the minimum pension.
  • Although the census was expected to be delayed until the following year,32 pressure from Democratic Front MPs prompted the government to commence preparatory activities in 2021, such as drafting the census law and organizing public debate in October. Due to the political sensitivity of the process, there were appeals to postpone the census or omit questions related to ethnic identity from domestic civil society as well as US and UK diplomatic representatives in Montenegro.33
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 4.254 7.007
  • In June, Parliament dismissed the president of the State Electoral Commission (SEC) after the commission refused to verify the mandate of a parliamentary candidate from the United Reform Action (URA) list in December 2020;1 the SEC had cited procedural reasons and a decision by a majority of its members, but in fact this refusal was a breach of its competences and an attempt to influence a vote organized by the parliamentary majority on amendments to the Law on Religious Freedom (see “Civil Society”). The procedure to appoint a new SEC president was then undertaken in Parliament but had not been completed in time for the municipal elections in December, which were therefore held without independent monitoring.2 The European Commission (EC) warned that continued efforts are needed to enhance the professionalism, transparency, and accountability of the SEC.3 In December, the new SEC president was appointed by Parliament with support from the opposition and URA, which was criticized by Democratic Front and other members of the ruling majority as a breach of coalition principles yet saluted by the EC and OSCE-ODIHR.4
  • The parliamentary Committee on Comprehensive Electoral Reform, established in December 2020, held five sessions in 2021 yet failed to introduce any significant legislative or practical changes, hampered by disunity within the parliamentary majority and occasional boycotts.5
  • A proposal to hold all municipal elections on the same day, instead of on a rolling basis, was submitted by the parliamentary majority; the change aimed to prevent illegal spillover of voters among municipalities and decrease tensions in the society caused by frequent elections. Although the idea had almost universal support in Parliament, its adoption failed because of disagreements on how to proceed with regular elections in three municipalities which had already been announced by President Đukanović and scheduled for December. Due to additional conflicts over amendments to the bill, the parliamentary majority decided to withdraw it.6
  • In 2021, local elections took place in five municipalities: Nikšić, Herceg Novi, Cetinje, Petnjica, and Mojkovac. In the spring, the national ruling parties won the elections in Nikšić and Herceg Novi. The electoral campaign in Nikšić, in particular, was marked by strong tensions, violence, widespread disrespect for epidemiological measures, violation of election silence, increased media coverage in and presence of individuals from neighboring Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and numerous allegations of voters double registered to also vote in the Republic of Serbia.7 Additionally, government members continued to use their positions and resources to interfere in the local elections.8 The polls in Mojkovac, Cetinje, and Petnjica were held in December. While DPS remained the strongest political party, it lost its absolute majority in Mojkovac, where parties that rule at the national level will now have the chance to form a local government. DPS won an absolute majority in Petnjica, whereas its support weakened in Cetinje, where it will have to enter into a coalition to form a government.9
  • The so-called Envelope Affair, which alleged illegal financing of DPS’s 2016 election campaign, has yet to be resolved.10 In this case, the indictment against the former Podgorica mayor and current advisor to President Đukanović for alleged money laundering was confirmed,11 but the trial had not begun by year’s end.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 5.255 7.007
  • In 2021, the government allocated public funds for the co-financing of EU-funded projects implemented by NGOs,1 but other public competitions for NGO projects were published with considerable delays due to the country’s interim financing or reorganization of the state administration, which hampered work in the civic sector.2
  • Several prominent civil society leaders embarked on political careers and acquired posts in the public sector. New movements aimed at preserving Montenegrin national identity were established, involving officials of the former regime and DPS. Most vocal among them was Civic Initiative “May 21,” which later announced its intention to run its own list of candidates in the next elections.3 Protests by feminist, environmental, and culture groups; trade unions; and various associations against government policies also took place. They were largely tolerated, even in cases that breached COVID-19 protocols.4 Civil society thus remained vibrant, with new actors and issues recomposing the sector.
  • The trend of mass public protests reached the boiling point in early September with the enthronement of the new Metropolitan of the SOC in Montenegro, at the Cetinje Monastery. Vowing to stop the event from taking place in Cetinje, opponents of the SOC mobilized and organized barricades around the city.5 DPS and its officials were the most vocal among political parties in their opposition to the enthronement.6 Despite the high risk, the religious ceremony took place amidst clashes of police and protesters.7 The Council for Civil Control of Police stated that law enforcement had used excessive force at the protest,8 which was held with no formal organizer or prior notification to the police. On the other hand, protesters allegedly fired shots in the air, and video footage shows a Molotov cocktail being thrown at the police. The nongovernmental group Human Rights Action, as well as the British and US embassies, issued statements that Montenegro had mainly succeeded in ensuring respect for the human rights of freedom of religion, on the one hand, and freedom of peaceful assembly on the other in what is a highly demanding situation.9 However, the public has yet to hear the findings of a special commission formed to analyze the institutional response to the events in Cetinje. Allegations were made that the prime minister exerted undue influence on the police during the events.10
  • Exacerbation of national and religious divisions for political purposes continued during the year. The prime minister called the MOC the “so-called church,” while the president described SOC as a “quasi-religious community.”11 In addition, the SOC was frequently accused of exerting undue influence on domestic politics through its ties to several ruling parties.12 PM Krivokapić publicly stated that he had fulfilled most of the promises made to Metropolitan Amfilohije, leader of the SOC who died in late 2020 and was seen as the main figure contributing to DPS’s loss of power in the 2020 parliamentary elections.13 In October, the government granted the SOC’s request to be enrolled in the official cadastre as owner of the Cetinje Monastery, a move strongly criticized by the opposition and civil activists.14 Previously, the SOC had the right to use the site while the local administration retained ownership (on grounds disputed by the SOC).
  • Amendments to the Law on Religious Organizations were passed in January a second time, since President Đukanović used his constitutional right to return the amended law to Parliament after the new majority had attempted to reverse contentious provisions that would negatively affect SOC property. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) welcomed the amendments, which stripped the controversial provisions but retained those that constitute genuine progress. However, PACE regretted that the process of amending the law was not fully inclusive.15
  • A final fundamental agreement with the SOC has yet to be signed despite pressure from Democratic Front, with the prime minister citing points that need further clarification or agreement,16 while CSOs and opposition parties urged the government to ensure more transparency in the agreement process.
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.253 7.007
  • Similar to previous years, Reporters Without Borders ranked Montenegro 104th among 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index. Top managerial positions within the government for the media sector remained vacant for almost a year; and although the government announced multiple changes to legislation, none had been meaningfully debated in Parliament by year’s end.
  • Montenegro ranks third in Southeastern Europe in a regional journalist safety index, with a score of 3.59 (after North Macedonia and Croatia) on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 is the worst and 7 the best.1
  • As of November 2021, there were a total of 25 verbal and physical attacks on journalists reporting for Montenegrin media outlets.2 Some attacks followed political divisions in the country or targeted journalists based on their affiliations with certain outlets. At least two attacks were also connected with criminal structures and reporting on organized crime.
  • The media landscape has changed but retains high polarization. The previous management of the national public broadcaster RTCG, which was associated with DPS, was replaced.3 Some former editors and journalists of RTCG transferred to Gradska TV, the new local public broadcaster established in the capital Podgorica with €2.5 million in public money allocated by the administration run by the DPS-led coalition.4 Two private televisions with national coverage (ADRIA and PRVA TV), following editorial and ownership changes, are associated with the Serbian regime and pro-Serbian Democratic Front.5 The takeover of 51 percent ownership of Vijesti media outlets was announced by the United Media Group, chaired by a Serbian businessman opposed to the Serbian regime. Still, it was reported that the current Vijesti co-owners from Montenegro have retained autonomy, namely, the right to maintain editorial policy.6
  • Montenegro still lacks collective external self-regulation mechanisms, or bodies, that would assemble all major media under one “umbrella.” In November, RTCG left the Media Council for Self-Regulation after receiving several complaints from this body.7
  • In April–May 2021, a new prosecutorial investigation was launched into the 2004 murder of the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Dan, but no major breakthroughs were made in the case. However, in November, the Special Prosecution Office (SPO) stated it had determined “beyond reasonable doubt” who had ordered the 2018 attack on Vijesti journalist Olivera Lakić, and two persons were apprehended in December, one a member of the Police Administration.8
  • Following an initiative by CSOs, Parliament adopted changes to the criminal code in December that introduced better protections for journalists. The amendments recognize specific offenses committed against journalists in connection with the performance of their work. Also, stricter sanctions were introduced for the criminal offense of preventing the dissemination of public information through the media, and sanctions are more severe if the perpetrator is a public official.9
  • The new council of the public broadcaster was formed10 following warnings from the EC that the 2019 council appointments had not succeeded in improving RTCG’s editorial independence and professional standards. The new council replaced the RTCG management, but the procedure was disputed due to allegations of conflicts of interest and the ineligibility of the new director.11 The EC stressed that following the management change, RTCG began to feature more politically diverse content, while it also stated that RTCG had yet to complete its transition from “state television” to “public broadcaster.”12
  • Offensive rhetoric and hate speech have accompanied Montenegro’s pronounced political and social cleavages. The 2020 media law introduced the obligation that portals, under the threat of misdemeanor liability, must remove comments of illegal content, including hate speech, but the new legal provisions are not fully implemented.13 Additionally, media professionals continued to advocate against provisions of the law that allow prosecutors to ask journalists to reveal their sources of information if it serves to resolve criminal acts or similar circumstances. In November 2021, the media reacted against the interrogation of a journalist from the daily Pobjeda by the National Security Agency (NSA), which alleged the journalist had revealed secret data.14
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 4.254 7.007
  • The 2021 report of the State Audit Institution (SAI) on financing of local municipalities shows that most are not agile in collecting their own revenues but prefer to rely on transfers from the central level. The SAI found that municipalities do not invest sufficient effort in delivering decisions to citizens on local taxes, or to staff the local institutions collecting local revenues, and they have a selective approach towards tax collection.1
  • After years of speculating on the number of municipal employees, a new system from the Tax Administration based on real reported employees revealed a total of 14,714 persons—some 2,500 more than in the 2017 reports submitted by municipalities themselves.2 The 2021 report showcased the failure of municipalities to downsize the number of employees and the pressure created by redundant employees on strapped public finances. Requests to optimize administrations in 16 municipalities were attached to their debt reprogramming agreements, but these obligations were not met in practice.
  • In the Ulcinj municipality, the former mayor and several associates were indicted by the special prosecution on allegations of illegal employment practices in the local administration.3
  • In July, the Administration for Revenues and Customs rejected an initiative to publish data on the tax debt of municipalities, as well as real-time updates on the manner in which they honor contracts on reprogrammed tax debt,4 with the rationale that the data would be published in the coming period along with their analysis. No data was published as of December 2021.
  • Although the last Public Administration Reform Strategy included preventing further segmentation of municipalities into new ones, which are usually not financially sustainable and increase already high public employment, the goal was not achieved and the procedure has not been made any more strict. During 2021, a feasibility study for the new municipality of Zeta (currently Golubovci, part of the capital Podgorica) was prepared,5 while other localities have also called for the forming of new municipalities.
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 3.253 7.007
  • The new parliamentary majority pledged to reform Montenegro’s prosecution, which is widely seen as the main impediment to a more effective fight against organized crime and corruption. The initial plan to pass two laws, one of which would immediately terminate the mandates of all special prosecutors, was met with criticism by the EU.1 Subsequently, the government consulted the Venice Commission, while the parliamentary majority gave up on its previous attempts to introduce radical changes and passed only amendments to the Law on State Prosecution.2 The amendments introduced new criteria for members of the Prosecutorial Council, which governs the state prosecution, and increased the number of members appointed by Parliament (so-called reputable lawyers).
  • They also envisaged, among other things, one seat for a representative from the civic sector and more stringent rules on conflicts of interest of prospective members. In addition, “reputable lawyers” cannot be appointed from the ranks of party members, officials, or persons who were prosecutors in the past eight years. Previously, some of these situations were present among members of the Prosecutorial Council, which at one point included the spouse of a minister in the 2016–20 government and a former supreme state prosecutor.3
  • The amendments to the Law on State Prosecution were passed in May. They have not fully adhered to recommendations by the Venice Commission, which, in part, envisaged immediate termination of the existing Prosecutorial Council. Following the amendments, the composition of the new council was only partially completed in August with the appointment of members nominated by the government and Conference of Prosecutors, which is composed of heads of state prosecutor’s offices and state prosecutors. The appointment of council members by Parliament was stalled due to frictions among the ruling parties, and was completed only in December after significant delays.
  • In February, Chief Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnić overstepped his competences by publishing the transcript of a wiretapped conversation between two politicians of Demokrate, a constituent of the new parliamentary majority.4 However, no procedure had been launched against Katnić as of year’s end.
  • In October, a scandal broke out alleging that former NSA management had wiretapped the Special Prosecution Office (SPO), followed by the arrest of the NSA’s former head.5 The SPO also stated that its prosecutors were under murder threats by organized crime groups and undue political pressure from the new parliamentary majority and the executive.6 Earlier, in February, the SPO alleged that the NSA had illegally wiretapped and surveilled politicians from the former opposition, journalists, and prominent public figures in the run-up to the 2020 parliamentary elections.7
  • In August, the Judicial Council announced that conditions had been met to terminate 23 judges based on an interpretation of the Law on Pension and Disability Insurance, which stipulates that women acquire the right to retire at the age of 64 and men at 66. Ten female judges asked the Constitutional Court to review the decision to terminate their mandates, arguing that they had been discriminated against by the misinterpretation of the legal provision, which provides them with the right but not the duty to retire earlier than men.8
  • Montenegro’s key judicial institutions lacked the necessary capacity in 2021. Twelve judges have left the Supreme Court due to either retirement or resignation, reducing the court to only six judges taking over hundreds of cases from their former colleagues.9 Consequently, the Commission for Code of Ethics of Judges ceased its work since there are no preconditions for replacing the Supreme Court representative.10 After former Supreme Court president Vesna Medenica resigned in December 2020, following allegations that her third mandate had been unconstitutional, the appointment of a new president was still pending at year’s end. The Judicial Council itself was incomplete, while the terms of its nonjudicial members have been prolonged until a qualified parliamentary majority may be reached to appoint new members, which is more than three years overdue.11
  • The work of the Constitutional Court was blocked in early November due to ongoing disagreements among its remaining five judges. Two judges argued that the mandate of a colleague should be terminated in October when he was due to be retired in line with the labor code; the judge at the center of this dispute, Dragoljub Drašković, argued that he should be retired only in January 2022, at the end of his term.12 As a result, the court did not have a quorum for key decisions. Full composition of the Constitutional Court is seven judges, and it requires four votes for decision-making, which was out of reach with the ongoing boycott by the two judges. Since Parliament terminated the disputed mandate of Drašković in late December,13 the Constitutional Court has lacked three judges, whose appointments are also conditioned on a qualified majority in Parliament. A total of nine candidates have applied for two positions which have been vacant since early 2021.14
  • The state prosecution has been run in an acting capacity since the retirement of former supreme state prosecutor Ivica Stanković in June. The appointment of a new supreme state prosecutor also requires a qualified parliamentary majority. Given that the justice minister was also dismissed (see “National Democratic Governance”), these top posts that should be emblematic of judicial reform in the country stand vacant. Overall, Montenegrin citizens do not perceive the judiciary to be independent, and there has been an increase of distrust in the institution as noted in the 2021 Balkan Public Barometer survey.15
  • In July, the SAI published a report on the prosecution16 that voiced concern over the prosecutor’s level of compliance with legal and, especially, financial regulations, citing negligence in adhering to as many as nine laws and a multitude of regulations. This shows a negative trend, given that SAI’s 2016 report on the prosecution was positive.17
  • The situation in the judiciary was further complicated in late May with a strike by lawyers who wish to be exempted from a new fiscalization law. After negotiations with the government, an agreement was reached in late July to amend the law by the end of the year to incorporate specific features of the profession.18 Still, by the end of the year, these amendments had not been yet incorporated.19
  • The Appellate Court overturned the verdict in the case of the alleged 2016 coup d’état, which had found guilty leaders of Democratic Front, among others. The Appellate Court based its decision on severe breaches in the criminal proceedings. DPS argued that the Appellate Court’s ruling was the result of pressure on the judiciary.20
  • On several occasions, through statements and social media, Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazović criticized representatives of the judiciary, such as the investigating judge of the High Court in Podgorica, Miroslav Bašović, when he decided not to detain alleged members of the Kavač organized crime clan. Such actions by Abazović have been interpreted by some as undue political pressure on the judiciary.21
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 3.003 7.007
  • Within the new government, several ministries have formed special anticorruption departments charged with investigating the dealings of former governments. Within the Ministry of Capital Investments, for example, the department has filed 13 notifications to the state prosecution and Parliament regarding cases of possible corruption in state-owned enterprises during 2021, but it reported that no response had been received from either institution.1
  • In February, the government formed the National Council for the Fight against High-Level Corruption,2 which includes civil society representatives as members. The council dealt with a number of topics, such as reporting on how previous governments had awarded favorable housing loans or free apartments to representatives of the judiciary and other public officials,3 as well as releasing previously classified information on construction of the Bar-Boljare highway.4 It also receives submissions from citizens reporting corruption, investigates corruption with the help of expert staff, and makes recommendations to the government. However, its recommendation that the government should suspend financial assistance from the budget reserve until an improved rulebook and criteria are adopted was ignored.5
  • In November, Parliament decided to waive immunity for MP Petar Ivanović (DPS), who was indicted by the Special Prosecution for alleged abuse of office during his tenure as minister of agriculture and rural development in 2015.6 The case involved misuse of a loan to develop agriculture.7 In the course of the investigation, the Special Prosecution also detained former head of the Investment Development Fund, Zoran Vukčević, a high-ranking official of the former ruling party.8
  • Former head of the Cadastre Administration, Dragan Kovačević, was arrested and indicted on allegations of appropriating coastal real estate through the power and influence of his position. After spending two months in custody, Kovačević escaped authorities after his pretrial detention was rescinded in February and has been at large ever since; an international arrest warrant was issued. He was indicted in absentia for creation of a criminal organization, abuse of official position through incitement, and extortion through incitement.9
  • The mayor of Budva municipality, Marko Carević, was accused by the NGO MANS of illegally usurping considerable state property; meanwhile, the new government has yet to act upon these allegations and representatives have visited Carević’s facilities for festive occasions, with no action taken to prevent or sanction Carević’s continued construction on the land in question.10
  • In August, Montenegrin police seized more than a ton of cocaine in the largest illicit drug seizure in the country’s history. International police cooperation was praised in the EC’s annual report.11
  • In July, the government adopted a decision to ban the storage of tobacco products at the Port of Bar to curb cigarette smuggling by organized crime groups, and ordered greater customs supervision over the tobacco company Novi Duvanski Kombinat in Podgorica. The company’s management announced it would cease operations in December.12
  • In November, the government decided not to extend the mandate of the acting head of the Revenues and Customs Administration, Aleksandar Damjanović, without offering an explanation.13 This decision was controversial since Damjanović’s work had been assessed positively by all sides of the political spectrum.
  • President Milo Đukanović was named in the Pandora Papers affair, with leaked documents showing that he and his son initiated offshore companies and trusts that were not reported in his asset declarations. The SPO initiated an investigation; the NGO MANS, who covered the Pandora Papers for Montenegro, complained about unfavorable treatment of its leader, Vanja Ćalović Marković, who was issued a summons to appear at an SPO hearing, whereas President Đukanović was merely invited to provide a written statement.14 In November, the president’s name also surfaced in a scandal in neighboring Albania: documents cited Đukanović in relation to a money transfer involving an Albanian businessman whose transactions in Italy had been blocked in a suspected case of money laundering. President Đukanović denied the allegations in both cases as false and constructed to damage his reputation.15
  • In 2021, the EC noted a more proactive approach by Montenegro’s Agency for Prevention of Corruption.16 The agency announced that it would deal with the Pandora Papers case ex post facto, although it had not publicized any results as of December.17 Prominent CSOs continued to raise concerns over political instrumentalization of the agency,18 which also faced mistrust from the new parliamentary majority. The agency’s 2019 and 2020 reports have not been endorsed by Parliament, indicating a lack of confidence in the agency’s management, which was appointed during the previous regime.19

Authors:

Milena Muk and Marko Sošić are policy analysts at the Montenegrin think tank Institute Alternative, where they study interrelated issues of rule of law and public administration reform, including monitoring of public finance and parliamentary oversight.

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