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Indestructible public officials: Agency seeks solutions, institutions do not react

01. Aug 2016.
Ilustracija: Đorđe Matić
Public officials who employ their relatives, pay their or their families’ companies using public money, and occupy several functions at the same time are frequently not held to account, as recommendations for their dismissal are not observed. CINS analyzed more than 50 of such recommendations – public officials have been actually dismissed in only 11 cases

Uranija Petrović, Director of the Primary healthcare centre in Kuršumlija, remained on her position even after the initiative for her dismissal was launched by the Anti-Corruption Agency. In 2013, she employed her daughter as a dentist for the period of six months.

 

According to the Law on the Anti-Corruption Agency, Director Petrović was to inform the Municipal Assembly of Kuršumlija about the potential conflict of interest. She failed to do it, which is why the Agency pronounced the recommendation for her dismissal.

 

At the Municipal Assembly session where the decision on Petrović’s dismissal was to be taken, Radoljub Vidić, Mayor, did not think that law was violated.

 

“Well, a dentist cannot work in ‘Biftek’ (a butcher’s in Kuršumlija) or just somewhere, but in the Primary healthcare centre… When this Agency solves high-profile cases of corruption in Belgrade and bigger towns, we will deal with Kuršumlija easily”, said Vidić at the session in October 2015.

 

In the end, almost all members of the Municipal Assembly voted for the recommendation of the Agency to be dismissed.

 

Database on proceedings against public officials

The recently published database of all proceedings the Anti-Corruption Agency launched against public officials in the last six years currently comprises 97 public officials who were pronounced recommendation for dismissal. This text analyzes 81 such final decisions which were published on the web page of the Agency in the beginning of the investigation.

 

CINS database is available HERE.

In April 2016, the Agency published on its web page 81 final recommendations for dismissal of public officials for various violations of the Law on the Agency.

 

Journalists from Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) analyzed the recommendations and discovered that in a large number of cases institutions decide not to accept them. Justifications given are various, from mistakes on part of the Agency, to penalties being too harsh, as a reprimand to a public official would suffice.

 

Uranija Petrović says that she did make a mistake, as at the time she did not know that she was to report her daughter’s employment. She adds that she did not employ a non-professional in the Primary healthcare centre, but a medical worker, and that this was approved by competent institutions, which is why she believes that the recommendation of the Agency is too harsh.

 

She explains further that at that time her daughter was the only dentist registered with the employment bureau, with a good average grade: “As this is a poor municipality, we all struggle so that our workers and especially our intellectuals get a job here, not to go elsewhere.”

 

In some of the cases in which the Agency issued a recommendation for dismissal, public officials left their positions for other reasons, while the initiative of the Agency was either not discussed, or was rejected.

 

For public officials who are dismissed or who themselves resign from their position, the notion of political accountability is short-lived; thus, they later reappear as claimants for the same or similar functions.

 

Non-democratic pressure

 

“We live under the illusion that a person who is praiseworthy and who works needs to be poor. It should not be like that. This man could have recomposed power, but he did not; he could have betrayed it, but he did not; he remained loyal, and this is why he has my political, human, moral, and any other support, because he is a human. Because of the force which came down on this place, I propose we dismiss any pressure, because it is not democratic.”

 

This is how Zlatan Krkić, Mayor of the municipality of Ćićevac, explained at the Municipal Assembly session held in February 2014 why Zoran Milivojević, Director of the Primary healthcare centre, should not be replaced.

 

Milojević’s replacement was requested by the Anti-Corruption Agency as he had employed his two sons without informing the Municipal Assembly about possible conflict of interest. Not a single member of the Municipal assembly voted for his replacement.

 

No final decision on Nikola Selaković

The Anti-Corruption Agency also requested replacement of Nikola Selaković, Minister of Justice, but the Agency Committee which was to decide upon his appeal has not passed the decision to the present day, as at the moment there was not a necessary majority.

Recommendations for dismissal are the final epilogue of proceedings the Agency conducts against public officials for different violations of the Law on the Agency. Most frequently, public officials employ their relatives, pay services of their private companies using public money, or perform several functions at the same time.

 

Except for recommendations for dismissal, the Agency may also pronounce the measure of reprimand, or the measure of publicizing the decision on law infringement.

 

The recommendation for dismissal becomes final if the public official launches no appeal against it; if an appeal is launched, the final decision is passed by the Agency Committee. If the Committee confirms the decision that the official is to be dismissed, the Agency files it to competent institutions which are then to decide about the proposed replacement.

 

CINS journalists analyzed 81 final recommendations for dismissals which were published on the web page of the Agency on 20 April, and which relate to the period of the previous six years.

 

The journalists filed requests for access to information of public importance to almost all of these institutions with only one objective – to learn whether the officials were replaced.

 

Radoljub Vidić, Mayor of the municipality of Kuršumlija, Photo: Media Centre

‘When this Agency solves high-profile cases of corruption in Belgrade and bigger towns, we will deal with Kuršumlija easily’

Radoljub Vidić, Mayor of the municipality of Kuršumlija, Photo: Media Centre

Out of the 54 public officials for whom CINS received the replies, only 11 have been dismissed from the function. Public officials were not dismissed in 23 cases, while in the remaining cases recommendations of the Agency were not discussed as the officials either resigned by themselves or were dismissed unrelated to the recommendation.

 

The school board of the gymnasium Branko Radičević in Stara Pazova did not want to replace the Principal, Miroslav Opavski, who had employed his daughter on fixed-term basis. The Committee found that the decision of the Agency was too harsh, and that the measure of reprimand is quite sufficient in this case.

 

Opavski says that cases of people embezzling the school budget or employing their whole families are not the same as his case, where his daughter, who met all conditions, worked as a replacement teacher for two classes a week, earning somewhat more than three thousand dinars a month. He adds that this opens the question whether children of public officials should be deprived of their constitutional rights to the benefit of other candidates.

 

Ljubiša Đorić, Principal of Sveti Sava elementary school in Pirot, had already not been on that position when the school board was deciding on the recommendation for his dismissal; the initiative of the Agency was rejected anyway.

 

Tatjana Babić, Director of the Anti-Corruption Agency, says that when the Law on the Agency was passed in 2008, it was expected that all bodies would tackle the common task of protecting public interest, that is, that the Agency would establish cases of law violation, while the other bodies would act in line with its decisions and their competences.

 

“This is not because the Agency orders or desires so, but because this is aimed at protecting certain public interest. Unfortunately, practice indicated that not all bodies understand their roles and responsibilities”, says Babić.

 

Due to the failure to act on part of institutions, the Agency proposes that the current Law is modified and that recommendations for dismissal become final. Adoption of the new law lasts for more than two years, which CINS already wrote about.

 

Political (un)accountability

 

Regardless of whether the Agency requested their replacement and whether they were replaced or not, some public officials later seek re-election for the same or similar positions.

 

One of them is Dejan Čokić, former Mayor of the municipality of Mladenovac. The Agency requested his replacement back in 2013, when he was still on the position, as it turned out that the company in which he was a co-owner was selling petrol for official vehicles of the municipality.

 

Regardless of the recommendation for his replacement and the court verdict, Dejan Čokić was a candidate of the Democratic Party for the elections in Mladenovac, Photo: Facebook page Za pravedni Mladenovac- Dejan Čokić

Čokić says that, as the Jugopetrol station was not in operation, the drivers refueled the cars at the petrol station owned by him and his brother, and that he did not know about it. According to what he says, the total income in this case amounted to some 1,800 dinars. He adds that he acted in accordance with the Law and put the recommendation for his dismissal on vote in the Municipal Assembly.

 

When decision on his replacement was taken at the Municipal Assembly session, the motion was dismissed by a vast majority.

 

The Agency also filed criminal charges against Čokić, as he failed to report all his property; thus, in 2015, the Basic court in Mladenovac sentenced him to eight months of imprisonment in case he does not commit another criminal offence within a period of one year.

 

This did not prevent Čokić and members of his branch of the Democratic Party (DS) from placing him as the first on the list of candidates at the last elections in the municipality of Mladenovac.

 

“We are positive that Čokić is the best candidate for the most responsible function in Mladenovac, which he proved by his successful and committed work in the previous mandate”, read the DS web site.

 

Čokić says for CINS: “We all know each other as this is a small town, so I thought that citizens of Mladenovac knew what I had been through and that I do not bear real responsibility for what I was accused of.”

 

This is obviously not what citizens of the municipality thought, so Čokić and DS ended up at the third position, with results lagging even behind the party of the fictitious character Ljubiša Preletačević, created as a parody of the political system in Serbia. Čokić is nowadays a member of the Municipal Assembly of Mladenovac.

 


The story has been produced under an EU funded grant, awarded in the Media Programme 2014. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the EU.
  

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