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The transparency of the Serbian Ministry of Interior is exhausted through publication of reports on most significant work results and Information Bulletins on the website of the Ministry; this however is not enough.

By Bojan Elek (BCSP) / Photo: Shutterstock
@BojanElek

Recommendations

  1. At least once per year Ministry of Interior should publish a detailed statistical overview of the crime situation, including: (i) information on crime rates, based on data collected by regional police divisions and classified by type of criminal activity; (ii) a comparative overview of statistical data on crime rates, segmented by type of criminal activity at the level of cities, municipalities and districts; (iii) the number of complaints and petitions concerning the work of police officers as well as information on actions that followed; (iv) all the above information must be gender sensitive, i.e. sorted according to gender.
  2. It is necessary to strengthen the capacities of the Bureau for Information of Public Importance, both in terms of human resources in accordance with the new Act on the Classification of Job Positions and through the provision of additional training and education by the newly formed Human Resources Sector. Prior to this, it is necessary to determine the type and content of needed training, by interviewing employees at the Bureau for Information of Public Importance.
  3. In cooperation with other organizational units, Bureau for Cooperation with the Media should work to improve communication through the website of the Ministry. This includes more effective communication of work results of the Ministry of Interior (especially in the field of fight against corruption within the police), as well as detailed information on the reforms that are being implemented or are planned to be implemented during the accession negotiations between Serbia and the EU.

The relationship between the transparency of police work and the public confidence in it is a fragile one. The nature of police work is such that part of it must always occur outside the public eye. However, in order for citizens to accept this necessary level of lack of transparency, the police must have integrity and enjoy great confidence among the citizens.[1] In Serbia, however, this is not the case.

A public opinion poll from July 2015 indicates that, at the regional level, the citizens of Serbia have the lowest level of trust and confidence in the police, and that the average police officer whom they encounter in the streets on a daily basis is perceived as brash, insolent and ignorant.[2] In such circumstances, increased transparency of police work becomes the main tool used to strengthen its integrity, increase its legitimacy and regain the trust and confidence of citizens.

For the above reasons, this part of the Report analyzes the activities of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) in the field of public access to information, the usability of available information and ways to improve transparency. Improving transparency is especially important if one takes into account that this is also one of the objectives of the MoI Development Strategy.[3]

The Law on Police creates conditions for greater transparency

In March and April 2015, the MoI has organized consultations with stakeholders on the Draft Law on Police.[4] Another good element of the Draft of the new Law on Police is the organization of five public hearings, not only in Belgrade but also in other major cities in Serbia. Special consultative meetings have been organized for representatives of civil society organizations and the international community. The consultation process has greatly helped in acquainting the public with the Draft, while improving the text of the Law in the process. However, on the website of the Ministry of Interior it is not possible to find reports on which proposals of stakeholders regarding the Draft Law on Police have been adopted and which have not, and for what reasons.[5] After a year of debate the Law on Police was adopted in late January 2016.

The Law on Police stipulates that the work of the MoI is public, and that the Ministry is obliged to promptly and fully inform the public about its work, save for exceptional cases where there are legitimate reasons concerning (i) the conduct of criminal proceedings, (ii) violation of regulations governing the confidentiality of information, (iii) violation of the dignity of citizens, or violation of the right to personal liberty (Article 6). This solution is better, in comparison with the previous one, because it presupposes the transparency of work of the Ministry and not just its obligation to inform the public about its work, but also because it lists specific cases in which the public’s right to know is limited. However, the Law on Police does not specifically regulate the area of ​​accountability of the employees in the MoI for the so-called leaks concerning police investigations, which have represented common practice in the past several years.[6] As stipulated in the Law on Police, disclosure of confidential information as defined by the Law or another regulation to unauthorized persons constitutes a serious breach of official duty (Article 206); this, however, does not regulate the entire problem of “leakage” of information.

The provisions of the new Police Act governing transparency must be put into practice (Box 1), and this can be achieved by adopting regulations on the manner, content and scope of communication, both with the media and with the general public. The Law on Police provides that the Minister, within one year of the entry into force of the Law, is obliged to issue an act regulating this area.

Box 1: Provide greater transparency of the work of the police and the Ministry

In addition to the regular publication of the Report on the Security Situation, which should inform the public of the results of the work of the MoI, the publication of which represents a statutory obligation, it is also necessary to regularly make the following available to the public: (i) the annual Report on the work of the Ministry, with the aim to inform the public about the development of the police and the results of the police reform process;[7] (ii) quarterly Reports on the work of the MoI, to be submitted to the Parliament’s Committee for Defense and Internal Affairs, which are not publicly available.[8]

Unavailability of statistical data on crime rates

Previous studies[9] indicate the unavailability of statistical data on crime rates in the country. Namely, due to uneven collection methodology, there is no single database on the crime situation which would be accessible to citizens. Although the MoI publishes reports on its most significant work results on its website – archived by year – they are neither sufficiently detailed nor regular.[10]

The Analytics Directorate within the MoI regularly compiles Statistical Overviews of the Situation in the field of public safety, but they are not accessible to the public; instead, they are intended for the heads of the MoI. Inaccessibility of these data negatively affects the citizens’ trust and confidence in the police, as there is no access to data concerning crime in the country. In addition, regular publication of statistics in this area would increase police efficiency and accountability, because the results would be exposed to public criticism and oversight.

Finally, regular reporting would also reduce the number of requests for access to information of public importance, which would alleviate some of the burden from the Bureau for Information of Public Importance. Therefore, it is recommended that the Ministry of Interior, following the examples of good practice from the region,[11] publish a detailed statistical overview of the crime situation at least once per year.

The capacity of the Bureau for Information of Public Importance needs to be strengthened

In addition to the Bureau for Cooperation with the Media, which informs the citizens about the work of the MoI, the Bureau for Information of Public Importance is another organizational unit within the Ministry whose aim is to increase transparency. Of all the republican authorities, the MoI received the largest number of requests for access to information of public importance; complaints were lodged, on average, only regarding every eighth request, while the average for the entire state administration is one complaint per six requests.[12] This is a particularly good result given that the number of submitted requests is growing from one year to the next (Table 1), while the Bureau employs only five people: Head of the Bureau, one administration clerk, two persons charged with the processing of requests, and one person charged with updating the Information Bulletin. The new Act on the Classification of Job Positions, adopted in August 2015, foresees hiring additional staff, which should significantly increase the capacity of the Bureau and improve access of stakeholders to information of public importance.[13]

 

Table 1: Overview of requests for information of public importance submitted to the police, and complaints lodged with the Commissioner
[Source: Reports of the Commissioner for 2012, 2013 and 2014. Data contained in the Information Booklet on the work of MoI differ from those of the Commissioner concerning the number of lodged complaints.]Table 1 Overview of requests
In accordance with the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance[14] and the Instructions developed by the Commissioner,[15] the MoI publishes regularly updated Information Bulletin on the Work which is available, together with archived previous versions, on the website of the Ministry. The scope of the Information Bulletin had increased over time and it is now over 700 pages long, which makes it difficult to find needed information. However, the Information Bulletin has not been updated in the last seven months.

The greatest success of the Bureau for Information of Public Importance is its impact on the change in the awareness of the heads in the MoI regarding the importance of cooperation with the Commissioner and the Ombudsman. The Bureau functions as an “information filter” but also as the organizational unit which serves to acquaint other units with new obligations relating to access to information of public importance. Another success was the initiation of the adoption of the Draft Law on Records and Data Processing in the field of internal affairs. Although the Draft was presented in February 2015, along with the new Law on Police, it is unlikely that it will be adopted before the beginning of next year.[16]

What appears as another problem in the Bureau for Information of Public Importance, in addition to its overburdened capacities due to lack of manpower, is the lack of opportunities for professional development. Namely, the MoI does not organize trainings at which the employees of the Bureau would have the opportunity to acquire new knowledge in the field of their professional activity. The only opportunities for professional development are the workshops and round tables organized by the Commissioner and the Ombudsman.[17]

Also, in practice, the Bureau for Information of Public Importance refuses to provide information, requested on the basis of a request for access to information of public importance, which is not contained in the documents in the possession the MoI. In addition, access to information is difficult also because of inadequate application of the Law on Data Secrecy, namely the application of unclear criteria for determination of the level of confidentiality of documents.[18] Thus, for example, the Act on the Classification of Job Positions within the MoI is a confidential document, inaccessible to the public, which prevents insight into the internal organization and a comprehensive overview of human resources within the Ministry.[19]

Inadequate utilization of the MoI website

The Internet website of the Ministry does not allow the public to view all the documents concerning the integrity of the police, nor does it efficiently communicate the results of the Ministry to the citizens.

In addition to the missing documents, which are listed above in the text, The MoI Integrity Plan cannot be found on the website, and neither can the Action Plan for the Implementation of the MoI Development Strategy.[20] Further, although the announcements of the Ministry are located in a special section of the website, they are not easy to read and are presented in a format that makes viewing and searching for them difficult. Already difficult to find, announcements are not sufficiently communicative, focusing too frequently on political actors and events, with insufficient focus on the presentation of results of police work. In light of this, the Ministry should follow the example of the Croatian MoI, which uses the ministerial Internet website while the police have their own.[21] This not only enhances transparency and facilitates communication directed toward the citizens, but also sends a message that police work is independent from that of the Ministry.

The MoI website does not provide sufficient information about the processes that take place during the accession negotiations; instead, by way of quick links or banners, it provides the public with the Screening Report for Chapter 24 and the Action Plan for the same chapter. Consideration should be given to the possibility of creating a separate domain or section on the Ministry’s website, which would contain detailed information on the ongoing reform processes or those that still ought to be implemented within the framework of the accession negotiations between Serbia and the EU, which will affect the work of the police. To this end, the announcement of the State Secretary of the MoI concerning the plans to open such a section on the MoI website represents good news from the perspective of transparency and higher quality information made available to the citizens.[22]

Necessary transparency with regard to reducing corruption within the police

In a situation where trust and confidence in the police is below the world average, and where two thirds of the population do not view this institution as one that serves the citizens – as in the case of Serbia[23] – It is particularly important to provide greater transparency of measures concerning the reduction of corruption within the police. To this end, it is especially important to present results of the work of IAS, whose significance in the battle against police corruption has been acknowledged by as many as one quarter of the citizens.[24] This is a good result if we take into account the fact that the sub-page of IAS and instructions on how to file a complaint are difficult to access through the main page of the MoI. The sub-page of IAS provides information about the procedures for filing complaints against and praises of the work of police officers, as well as summary annual reports on the number of complaints received during the period 2005-2014 (Chart 1).

Chart 1: Internal Police Affairs Sector’s overview of documents received for processing and the proposed measures against police officers
[Source: Annual results of the Internal Police Affairs Sector for 2012, 2013 and 2014]

Chart 1 Internal Police Affairs Sector’s overview
In particular, measures should be taken to promote the integrity of police officers and mechanisms for internal control, by increasing the transparency of criminal investigations. It is especially important to establish transparency in investigations that focus on the work of police officers; one of the options is to do so through the establishment of a civil mechanism for supervision of criminal investigations. Positive examples of this can be found in the neighborhood, such as the Council for Civil Oversight of the Implementation of Certain Police Powers[25] in Croatia, or the Council for Civilian Control of Police Work,[26] which has been established in Montenegro.

Notes

[1] Leslie Holmes, „Introduction: Corruption and Policing,“ in Toolkit on Police Integrity, ed. Pierre Aepli et al. (Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2012), 25. <http://goo.gl/RF97s9>

[2] Bojan Elek et al., The views of citizens about police accountability: A comparative analysis of the results of public opinion polls in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo (Belgrade: Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, 2015), 10-12. <http://goo.gl/w6QG1x>

[3] Ministry of Interior, Development Strategy of the Ministry of Interior 2011-2016 (Belgrade: Ministry of Interior, 2010), 22. <http://goo.gl/FqtJjU>

[4] Available at: <http://goo.gl/Hc7fVN>

[5] While drafting of the Action Plan for Chapter 23: Judiciary and Fundamental Rights the Ministry of Justice has begun a good practice of regularly publishing the comments of stakeholders on the different versions of the Draft Action Plan, as well as an explanation why particular comments were accepted or rejected.

[6] See: Saša Đorđević, Assessment of Corruption in the Police (Belgrade: Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, 2014), 40-41; Saša Đorđević, “Ministry of Interior: Transparency of the Development of Integrity,” Integrity assessment of the security sector in Serbia, ed. Predrag Petrović (Belgrade: Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, 2014), 25-26.

[7] Pursuant to Article 254 of Draft Law on Police, which obliges Moi to inform the public about statutory changes

[8] Interview, member of the NARS Committee for Defense and Internal Affairs, 21 September 2015

[9] See: Gorana Radovanović, (Un)available Serbian Police Crime Statistics (Belgrade: Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, 2015). <http://goo.gl/IvCOQm>

[10] At the moment (1st November 2015), the last available report on the website of the Ministry is for the year 2013. Available at: <http://goo.gl/TauWGX>

[11] Croatian Ministry of Interior publishes annual statistical reviews of basic security indicators and operating results for the previous year. Summary for 2014 is available at: <http://goo.gl/N5O3eR>

[12] Replies of the Commissioner to the BCSP questionnaire, 2 October 2015

[13] Report from the meeting with representatives of MoI, 15 October 2015

[14] Ibid.

[15] Article 39, Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, “Official Gazette of RS” No. 120/2004, 54/2007, 104/2009 i 36/2010

[16] Instruction for the creation and publishing of the Information Bulletin on the work of state authorities,“ Official Gazette of RS” No. 68/2010

[17] Report from the meeting with representatives of MoI, 15 October 2015

[18] See: Saša Đorđević, “Ministry of Interior: Transparency of Development of Integrity”, in Integrity Assessment in Serbia’s Security Sector, ed. Predrag Petrović (Belgrade: Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, 2014), 21.

[19] The regulation governing the classification of job positions in Montenegro and Croatia is available to the public.

[20] Due to the unavailability of these documents, citizens are deprived of information about ways to strengthen the integrity of the police, and those concerning the meeting of the strategic priorities of the MoI.

[21] See: <http://www.policija.hr/>

[22] Statement by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs given at the meeting of the Working Group for Chapter 24 of the National Convent on the EU. Available at: <http://goo.gl/VvqNCh>

[23] Bojan Elek et al. Citizens’ views on the accountability of the police in Serbia (Belgrade: Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, 2015), 8-13.

[24] Ibid, 28.

[25] GONG, Members Sought for the Council for Civilian Control of Police Work (Zagreb: GONG, 2015).

[26] See: <http://www.kontrolapolicije.me/>

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