Parliamentary oversight of the police in Serbia is not effective despite the adoption of the new Law on Police.
By Mateja Agatonović (BCSP) / Photo: Boris Dimitrov (Wikimedia)
The new Law on Police adopted in late January 2016 improved police oversight, at least on paper. It vested the Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs with new powers and the ability to exercise effective control of police work.
The Committee can now oversee the legality of the special investigative measures defined in the Criminal Procedure Code, the measure of targeted search and the integrity test. This is a significant improvement, considering that earlier competencies of the Committee – according to Committee members – significantly limited its control function. Although new possibilities do exist, they are not applied in practice and the role of the Committee is primarily reduced to the consideration of draft laws and periodical reviewing of MoI reports.
Competencies of the Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs
Reviews semi-annual and special reports on the security situation in Serbia; reviews regular and special reports on the work of the Ministry; reviews annual reports on the work of the Internal Control Sector; oversees the legality of spending of budget and other resources; oversees the legality of the implementation of special investigative measures defined in the Criminal Procedure Code, the measure of targeted search and the integrity test; oversees the respect of political, ideological and interest neutrality in the work of the police; establishes the facts of the illegalities or irregularities identified in the work of the Ministry and adopts appropriate conclusions; reports to the National Assembly on its conclusions and suggestions.
The Minister, or a person authorized by him, submits to the Committee a semi-annual report on the security situation in the Republic of Serbia, as well as a regular report on the work of the Ministry. When necessary or at the request of the Committee, the Ministry also submits special reports to the Committee.
In 2016 the Committee held a total of 12 meetings: 8 in the first quarter, one in May when the Committee considered the Government’s Negotiating Position for Chapter 24, and only three during the current convocation of the Parliament. At the third meeting, held on 31 October 2016, the Committee jointly considered the quarterly information on the work of the Ministry of Interior for the period from January to September that year.
Due to the Presidential elections in Serbia and the decision of President of the National Assembly of dubious legality, Parliament was in a state of lockdown and only one session of this Committee was held in 2017.
The reports presented by the Ministry of Interior at Committee meetings are not available to the public, which prevents the general public from becoming acquainted with the results of the work of the MoI and hinders systemic performance monitoring.
Under the new Law on Police, the Ministry of Interior is obliged to publish on its website quarterly information on its work, as adopted by the competent Committee. However, these reports are still not available on the Internet. It is commendable that it is possible to follow the meetings through the website of the National Assembly, and that the major decisions and the minutes are available on the website of the Open Parliament.
After the early elections in April 2016, MPs who entered the National Assembly of Serbia came from a much greater number of parties than was the case in the previous composition, and it was expected that this would strengthen the oversight role of the Parliament and encourage discussion of important topics. This, however, did not happen.
The role of the Parliament has been reduced to the enactment of laws, most often by way of emergency procedure, and the acclamation of proposals coming from the executive branch. This was not the case with the Law on Police, which was the subject of five public debates in 2015 and the interested public was able to submit their comments on the Draft Law electronically. However, its adoption has been promised to the public four times in the course of 2015.
The parliamentary majority avoids discussing sensitive topics by outvoting the opposition MPs. A good example of this is the refusal to include in the Parliament’s agenda the item in the context of which it was proposed to establish a committee to explore the events related to the Savamala case. Additionally, the good practice of appointing MPs belonging to opposition parties as heads of Committees has been abandoned.
The institute of parliamentary questions is used infrequently. The Rules of Procedure provide that parliamentary questions may be posed every last Thursday of the month from 4:00 to 7:00pm, during a regular session of the Parliament and if there is a session scheduled on that day. This allows the Speaker of the Assembly to avoid questions posed to the Government by never scheduling a session on the last Thursday of the month. This practice has been in use for several years now. Under the current parliamentary convocation the Government has responded to MPs’ questions only once, and only three times in two years under the previous composition.
Because the vast majority of Serbian citizens (76%) believe that the work of the police is politicized, it is essential to control compliance of police work with the political, ideological and interest neutrality. Also, it is essential that members of the Committee use their new powers to control the work of the MoI in accordance with the Law on Police.