This article, authored by Marjan Poljak and Milica Filipović, was originally published by CEE Legal Matters.
Montenegro, as a European state on the path to European Union ("EU") accession, must fulfill a series of conditions and obligations before being granted EU membership. The fight against corruption and white collar crime in general is one of the most significant challenges faced by Montenegro and other countries of the Western Balkans in this regard.
Corruption is a complex social, economic, and philosophical phenomenon that slows economic development, contributes to governmental instability, and undermines democratic institutions. Combating corruption is extremely important for Montenegro, not only because of the country's commitments towards the EU, but in order to uphold the rule of law and create an economically vibrant society that is attractive to domestic and foreign investments.
According to Transparency International's figures from 2014, Montenegro ranks 76th out of 175 states in the Corruption Perception Index (42 out of 100 on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt)). This ranking places Montenegro among countries with widespread corruption, manifested in the following forms: non-transparent privatizations, rigged public tenders, fraud, bribery, and other forms of abuse of power. The aforementioned results lead to the conclusion that previous anti-corruption activities and measures have not been effective in changing the culture of corruption that exists in the country.
This is mainly due to the fact that Montenegro has only partially completed its transition from a socialist planned economy to a free-market, capitalist-oriented economy. As a result, Montenegrin state institutions are still not sufficiently capable of creating and implementing an efficient system to fight corruption and to limit the impunity of state officials. Furthermore, corrupt behavior is encouraged by state bodies and institutions where employment continues to be based on political affiliation. This point was addressed in the European Commission's report from October 2014 on Montenegro's progress on the path towards EU accession.
Additionally, pursuant to a recent report of the Centre for Democratic Transition (the "Centre"), corruption in Montenegro is widespread – a conclusion based on the fact (among others) that until now there have been no prosecutions of "high level corruption" cases. The extent of corruption is equally prevalent on the national and local levels. However, the number of charges laid against public officials for corrupt behavior remains negligible. According to the Centre, in the second half of 2013 there were only 118 charges for corruption at the local level, 17 of which were filed in the nation's capital, Podgorica. The only encouraging fact is that three high level corruption cases have been initiated against the former and current mayors of Budva and the mayor of Niksic.
In order to improve existing deficiencies in legislation and to have a stronger impact on the undesirable levels of corruption in the country, Montenegro adopted the Law on the Prevention of Corruption on December 9, 2014 (fittingly, the International Day against Corruption). This was the first in a series of systemic laws that Montenegro is obliged by the EU to introduce in order to provide a legal basis for the fight against corruption in the country. By the end of 2014, two additional laws were adopted: the Law on Financing of Political Parties and Electoral Campaigns, and the Law on Lobbying. Amendments to the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest and to the Law on Public Procurement were also passed, thus completing the legal framework necessary for combating white collar crime and corruption as one of its most dominant manifestation forms.
The Law on the Prevention of Corruption is particularly significant because it provides for the establishment of a special Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (the "Agency") as well as comprehensive protection of "whistleblowers" – i.e., persons who report instances of corruption. This law provides that the Agency shall replace the largely ineffective Directorate for Anti-Corruption Initiative and the Commission for the Prevention of Conflict of Interest. Its main tasks are the prevention of conflicts of public and private interests and protection of persons who disclose the existence of alleged corruption. The Agency, as a central and independent body, is expected to become operational on January 1, 2016.
Although Montenegro is in the process of creating the institutions necessary to combat corruption, this alone is not enough to eliminate corrupt behavior. First and foremost, Montenegro must demon strate the political willingness to fight corruption through high level prosecutions of corrupt officials, serious investigations into corrupt behavior, and the adequate protection of whistleblowers. The Montenegrin judiciary must be viewed as acting independently in the course of such prosecutions, and conditions must be established to ensure the smooth functioning of newly created independent bodies.
It remains to be seen how the Law on the Prevention of Corruption and other legislation will be applied in practice, the range of their provisions, and whether awareness about the importance of fighting corruption will be raised in Montenegro.