The new law regulating the internal affairs in Montenegro will decide whether the Police Directorate will remain a part of the Ministry of Interior or become separate service of the state and operationally independent.
By: Dina Bajramspahić (Institute Alternative)
Operational independence means that police chief have complete immunity from political influence in policing decision-making – for example, in deciding whether to initiate an investigation or not. In an essence of police operational independence is a question whether the power to decide in a specific case will be in a chair of the Minister or Police Director.
This power in practice must be properly decentralized and full implementation of the government’s principle of checks and balances is required, while management systems for human resources and finance are reliable and efficient.
The working group has been preparing the new Law on Internal Affairs for three years in which I took part in that period. For at least that long, the debate about which model is better – independent police or the police within the Ministry of Interior – is active.
This is a very complex issue since Montenegro experienced both models. Maybe it is easy to choose any solution, but it is difficult to make it functional and in the service of citizens.
The Public Administration Ministry in November 2017 prepared an analysis of the functional and financial effects of the introduction of an administrative body within the Ministry and began to advocate more openly that this model was not appropriate in a sense that it did not contribute to greater accountability and efficiency of the police.
The general proposal of the Public Administration Ministry was to abolish this model, but without additional guidance on how to develop a qualitatively new performance with the new concept.
Previously, the State Audit Institution proposed reviewing this idea based on its audits.
The Public Administration Ministry proposal means that some of bodies or sectors would become independent and separate, while the Ministry of Interior would fully incorporate some, and the merger of organs could occur.
Furthermore, the issue is not only the Police Directorate but also twenty different administrations, institutes, agencies and directorates that are part of different ministries.
For example, the Ministry of Finance has gladly accepted that the bodies that were a part of it, the Tax Administration, the Customs Administration, the Real Estate Directorate, the Games of Chance Administration, change their status.
However, the Ministry of Interior stressed at the public hearing about the new Law on State Administration that the Police should remain an exception due to the specificity of police powers and the need for stronger control.
Nevertheless, many challenges in “managing” the Police Directorate are obvious by analyzing the practice of the Ministry of Interior from 2012 until now.
Two key aspects of the “body within the Ministry” model are that the Ministry of Interior has so far kept in control: 1) employment in the Police Directorate and 2) financial management of the Police Directorate.
For these purposes, from 2012 to date, a significant number of directorates, departments, offices, bureaus, sectors, and other organizational units have been formed in the Ministry of Interior, whose effect cannot be seen and their actual contribution to the functioning of the Police is very questionable.
For example, the Ministry of Interior for the year and a half changed the Rules on the Internal Organization and Systematization nine times, which shows a lack of vision for police reform, as well as a chaotic personnel policy that contributes to the politicization of the police.
During 2018, at one point, there were 320 unassigned officers of the Ministry of Interior and the Police Directorate.
From 2012 to 2014, the Ministry of Interior lost more than 17 million euros in courts, mostly in labor disputes, which best speaks about how it managed human resources. This trend continues.
The State Audit report, published in July 2018, shows that even in 2017, more than six million euros are spent based on court disputes from an earlier period.
Even the Police Directorate was no better at managing the finances while they were autonomous.
The most problematic contracts signed and realized in the “autonomous” period of Police Directorate. Cases as “Limenka”, “Zlatica Camp” and construction of Police Directorate administration building had multi-million budget implications for which no one ever answered.
While the Police Directorate is inclined to “leap” out of their authority and act arbitrarily, the Ministry of Interior did not stop it in an adequate way. Internal control of the Ministry of Interior deals with only benign complaints instead of the criminal responsibility of certain police officers.
It is easy to support the idea that the Ministry of Interior dictated certain political solutions when it comes to police strategic documents. The opposite is in legislation development, recruitment of personnel that does not meet the needs of the Police Directorate. Additional, the police staff did not defend itself against such practices.
Although the model of the Police Directorate as an independent body has certain advantages, it will only have an effect when the police have a fully professional management that will be a strong obstacle to the influence of politics on its work.
The selection of the new Police Director has certainly accelerated the decision-making on the model. Still, the operationalization of this decision is very complex and requires prescriptive precise internal procedures.
The question is whether there will be interest in creating solid human resources and financial management systems that would make it more difficult for abuses and making political decisions instead of professional ones. Otherwise, the Police Directorate will manage the same way as the Ministry of Interior.
It will be a pity for citizens if this process does not lead to a serious improvement of policing in Montenegro, but only contribute to the overflow of personal power.
The article was originally published in the daily newspaper Vijesti.
Translated by Olga Boškov.