New Government, Old Habits

by Ljubomir Filipović

It has been only a week since the new government took office. Montenegro has been promised a government of experts, but unfortunately, with few exceptions, it cannot qualify as such. Ministers are mostly picked by the Serbian Orthodox Church, but to be fair, several of them were nominated by the junior coalition partner, the liberal pro-Western United Reform Action (URA) party led by Dritan Abazović.

The new government’s first big steps were met with negative reactions from the part of the public which was supporting them before the elections and during the negotiations period. Namely, the issue of the 750 million euro package of government bonds that was agreed and arranged with the former government and was secretly implemented by the new one. Only after it was reported by the pro-government newspaper Vijesti,  Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić and Minister of Finance Milojko Spajić organized a press conference and said they were doing it secretly to avoid sabotage. By whom and for what reasons remains unknown.

All parliamentary political parties asked for the full report in the parliament because of the lack of transparency of the whole process. Even MPs who are supporting the new government seemed surprised with the whole thing. The issue of 750 million euros worth of bonds is by far the biggest in Montenegrin history, and it has been justified with the pandemics and its consequences on the economy, with the previous government’s accumulated debts. While they wanted to present themselves as the saviors of the Montenegrin economy, new Prime Minister Krivokapić and Minister of Finance Spajić avoided mentioning it was arranged and agreed by the old government and with their support during the transition period.

So, what are the critics saying? First and foremost, with this move, the government is losing the reputation of trailblazers that it so adamantly wanted to acquire. In his inaugural speech, the new prime minister promised a completely new and innovative approach to politics. With this decision and other few announcements, such as those related to the state-owned Montenegro Airlines and future plans for the airports, the new team headed by Prime Minister Krivokapić  are choosing to steadily follow the paths paved by the former policymakers.

Other negative comments are related to the arrangement itself. The interest rate is far higher than what our neighboring countries with similar or the same credit rating, got for a similar amount and repayment period.

The decision to make such a move, especially without creating a plan for cutting the public spending or passing a new budget and the lack of transparency, was heavily criticized by the opposition, but it was defended by the newly pro-government media.

The other move that caused the second wave of negative reactions was the decision of the new majority to pass a law that lowers hiring criteria for public servants and officials. The new government is doing this to open the way to fill the administration with their party activists to reward them for their support. While the current labor-related legal framework makes it impossible to fire professional public servants, this means Montenegro will have a significantly bigger administration.

In the new law on public servants, the length of the needed work-related experience was significantly lowered from six years to two years in some cases. Also, it is now allowed for the people under criminal investigation to take office. Some analysts believe this particular stipulation was created to allow the people who are indicted for the 2016 coup attempt to take office because the new government depends on their vote in the parliament. The EU Commission took notice on the law, and sent a clear message it needs to be “improved”.

Prime Minister Krivokapić visited Brussels last week, and gave some reassuring messages to our NATO and EU partners, but upon his return he chose to appoint the Serbian Orthodox Church’s lawyer to lead the country’s National Security Agency (ANB).

The bottom line is, as I previously stated, that this government is losing the trust of the civil society and the part of the public which voted for change not because of the church, but because of the practices of the former government. The corruption, the lack of transparency, nepotism, inefficient, and expensive public administration.

Ljubomir Filipović is an experienced consultant who specializes in  in government affairs and political risk assessment. He was elected as a Deputy Mayor of Budva, Montenegro, and served as the acting Mayor. He was selected as a 2018 McCain Institute Next Generation Leader. Recently, he worked with the Atlantic Council in Montenegro and the Government Affairs Office at the Denver International Airport. Filipović holds partner and senior management positions in a number of consultancies based in Brussels, Geneva, and Tbilisi. He has been published and provided commentary in local Montenegrin media, as well as in The New York Times, The Guardian, The World Politics Review, and Le Figaro. He has appeared as an analyst and commentator on Euronews, Al Jazzeera and other networks. You can find him on Twitter @Ljubofil.

The opinions expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Balkan Insider.