Assessment of the new Government by Platform 112
Platform 112 presents assessment regarding the work on these 112 demands during the first quarter of the new government, or symbolically during the first 112 days of its term. Platform 112 is developed by 60 civil-society organisations in Croatia that are continuously working on protection of human rights, democratisation, peace-building, combating corruption, and protecting public resources, especially the environment. In addition to our general assessment, with highlighted main positive steps and oversights, and we also reflect on positive and negative shifts in particular in the thematic spheres of Platform 112.
Platform 112 is developed by60 civil-society organisations that are continuously working on protection of human rights, democratisation, peace-building, combating corruption, and protecting public resources, especially the environment. Before the Parliamentary elections in December 2011, these civil society organizations directed a list of 112 demands to all political contestants defining priorities and specific measures for Croatia in which the rule of law represents the foundation of individual, institutional and political action.
We call for and expect consistency and political responsibility on the part of the new Government and also on the part of all other political actors and institutions to implement true and lasting improvements for accomplishing the following objectives in the following five interconnected priority areas:
(1) Stable responsible and democratic institutions, and equal access to justice;
(2) Quality of democracy;
(3) Fight against corruption and fight for public interest;
(4) Equality and dignity for all people;
(5) Legacy of war, dealing with the past and peace-building.
Inthis reportwe present our assessment regarding the work on these 112 demands during the first quarter of the new government, or symbolically during the first 112 days of its term.
In addition to our general assessment, with highlighted main positive steps and oversights, we also reflect on positive and negative shifts in particular thematic spheres of Platform 112. Thereupon, we present recommendations for effective performance on the part of the government during this vital first year of its term in connection with identified priorities and problems in the area of democratisation, and we also present further advocacy activities of the members of Platform 112.
The general assessment of the new government’s work during the first 112 days
During the past quarter following the formation of the new administration, we noticed signs of positive shifts in connection with 29 out of 112 demands, which make up a quarter of all requests in Platform 112. In most cases, there are signs of entirely different approaches in deliberating numerous policies, especially educational, reproductive, security, and foreign policy. At the same time, we notice lack of actual political decisions that can bring about real changes, especially regarding socially endangered persons, returnees, and war victims. The prevalence of the declaratory side over the operative side is understandable on one hand, considering that it is the initial period of constituting the new administration, however the exhibition of political will is trustworthy only when it is followed by actual decisions that entail institutional budgetary backing and institutional backing of implementation, through a transparent process that includes the interested public as well.
Currently, discrepancies between informal announcements and the openness of political functionaries in most departments, whom we have had contacts with; deficiencies in planning; and inconsistencies in following the procedures for inclusive decision-making (in most legislative procedures , not respecting the Code for Consulting the Interested Public; many cases of not providing written answers to written questions addressed to the Government’s Public-Relations Department; and the recent negative example of only formally meeting the requirement to include two members from the public in the Board of the Electronic Media Agency) are evident on the part of the Government, but on the part of the Parliament as well (urgent legislative procedures; as well as delaying the adoption of the Parliament’s new Rules of Procedure which should be the basis for including nonparliamentary members in the work of all parliamentary committees). Respecting the procedures of public communication and consulting brings about predictability and equality in accessing information and in the very decision-making process, and it is essential for the credibility of the new government’s decisions and for the much needed changes in the political culture.
Therefore, we ask that urgent procedures and omitting consultations with the public should finally stop being the rule in passing laws, and should become exceptions that are very well justified, and we ask of the Government to restore the practice from the time of Prime Minister Ivica Račan, when all the journalists after Government sessions had equal access to all members of the Government during regular press conferences. We ask that minimum standards of correspondence with citizens be unfailingly practised in accordance with the rules, and in accordance with the principles of transparency, like during the term of the former administration when at least a response could be expected within 10 days from the moment that an inquiry was sent in an electronic form! Finally, we expect substantially greater presence of the Prime Minister in the public, for it is his responsibility to elucidate and clarify to citizens the direction of whole policies, and especially important decisions made by the Government.
While the entire Report delineates in detail the achievements and oversights, in the summary we shall only point out important positive trends, as well as negative ones.
Major positive shifts:
- The readiness to systematically integrate civic education into the elementary and high school curriculums, which was presented as one of political priorities of the department of education, whereat the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports and the Agency for Adults Education have shown interest for partnership with civil-society organisations in carrying on pilot projects. We advocate a gradual, deliberate, multi-year process supported by adequate budgetary funds, which by the way in the preliminary phase have not been provided, and a dialogue on integrating human-rights education and education for democratic citizenry into the system of university education.
- The Government has adopted the Action Plan on Partnership for Open Governance for 2012 to 2013 which contains an array of measures defined in the course of the dialogue between the state and civil society, with a view to improving the transparency, and with a special emphasis on: budget management, public procurements, public-companies work, modes through which political parties are financed, public query into the assets of functionaries and chief public servants, access to information, and participation of the public in shaping public policies. We regard this document as a set of actual political obligations for improving the quality of public management and of participatory democracy, whereat the organisations forming Platform 112 will actively support and critically monitor their implementation.
- The government’s openness (that is, of the Ministry of Administration and of the president of the Committee for Constitution, Political System, and Rules of Procedure) towards the proposition to systematically and comprehensively reform the electoral legislation through a participatory process that will include the academic community, authorised institutions, and the civil society. Presently, work-groups for electoral registers, political system, and for evaluating the regulations on the ways that political parties and political campaigns are financed have been formed, however we expect that the Ministry of Administration will present to the public and to the Parliament a complete proposal for electoral reforms with a defined work pace.
- There has also been initiated a timely process for changing the constitutionally unacceptable provisions on the Law on Amendments and Annexes to the Law on Public Assembly, by which the decree prohibiting all gatherings on the Mark Square shall finally be abrogated in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court. However, the proposed solution that is about to be presented for first reading contains deficiencies that is necessary to eliminate in the light of the decision of the Constitutional Court, the quality of human-rights protection, and of the very enforceability of the law. Civil-society organisations that make up Platform 112, headed by The Centre for Peace Studies, have composed propositions for improvement of the new legislative solution, and which are presented hereinafter in this Report, and more comprehensively in a separate analysis on the draft, which has been presented to the Members of Parliament at the beginning of the respective session of the Parliament.
- The preparation of the new law on assisted reproductive technology which fundamentally changes the current regulations in the direction that enables women to have the right to make their own decisions about their own body and reproduction, freely and without being subject to discrimination, compulsion, or violence. To date, the Health-Care Ministry has successfully circumvented ideological pressures from religious communities, and to female patients has ensured the right to have their own choice of medical treatment. However, in the very process of drafting the law, which has been assigned to a work-group, the associations of female and male patients have not been adequately included.
- The Ministry of Science, Education and Sports, in accordance with professional standards is successfully resisting the pressures from religious communities and has shown willingness to introduce sexual education into schools, as part of the health-care curriculum. There are reservations concerning the speed of its implementation in practice, so it is justifiable to ask whether a comprehensive sexual education will really take place during the term of this Government.
- For the first time the priorities in the foreign policy have been defined, which greatly refer to the protection of human rights and peace-building, and which include international aid for development, and strengthening the civil component over the military one in international missions in which the Republic of Croatia participates (like in Afghanistan). The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has shown readiness to co-operate with civil-society organisations in developing a strategy for international developmental aid and its dispensation, and also for organising public debates about Croatian foreign policy.
- For the first time, the policy regarding media, that is its chronic absence, has been recognised as a priority for the Ministry of Culture, with particular attention to the strategic approach, dialogue with journalistic and audio-visual professionals, solving the current crisis in public media, and at strengthening the positions of non-profit media. Following the prompt response by the Minister of Culture, Andrea Zlatar, to the Appeal about the eligibility of the Croatian Radio Television to act as a public media service, the Minister has initiated legislative changes in order to reform the Croatian National Television. We acknowledge the steps Minister has already made, and we call for transparency in the legislative process (that has been missing during the first month) and for consistency in implementation of the necessary changes.
- A shift in the attitude in the direction of deeming the civil-society organisations as partners and not as opponents to the department for environment protection. The ministry, headed by the Minister of Environment Protection Mirela Holy, is profiling its own mission and establishing itself as an equally important department, and we hope that it will remain independent and free of influence from other, potentially “stronger” Ministries (such as Economy, Construction Work and others).
- For the first time an important document on security policy has been formulated in a transparent way - the change has been effectuated through the adoption of a transparent decision by the Government of the Republic of Croatia to draw the National Strategy of National Security, with the participants and time limits for its compilation clearly stated, and a public discussion planned; thus, the fact that drafting of the Strategy shall not be co-ordinated by the Ministry of Defence, but for the first time by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, represents a major positive change. However, up to now the commissioned work-group has not been able to carry on its duties within the set time limits. From this example it is evident how important it is to adequately plan the time and the capacities of institutions engaged in developing security policies.
At the same time, we point out major oversights on the part of the new administration, that we deem to be unjustified even after taking into account the fact that these are the first months of its term, and especially due to the fact it is about inherited democracy deficit and injustices that for years have harried the most vulnerable groups of society such as the poor, minorities, and war victims.
Major oversights and problems:
- The continuance of disrespect for the Code of Good Practice of Consulting the Interested Public in the process of enacting regulations, and the dominance of urgent legislative proceedings, thereby impairing participative democracy. We call for consistent application of the Code and for increasing its effectiveness by making changes in the Government’s Rules of Procedure.
- It is totally unjustifiable to continue not solving presently 14 cases (not only 11) of unauthorised investments in property, that is to continue to not turn over the disputed property to returnees, and to not indemnify them for sustained damages.It is a problem that was detected in the context of closing the negotiations on Chapter 23, and despite the declaratory openness of the new administration there have been no positive steps; political elite previously in power, who has been blocking the solution of this problem, still hold influential positions! We request the state to solve these cases urgently by making individual contracts with the owners of the property and by agreeing to compensate the sustained damages, damages arising from the prolongation of the proceedings, and damages arising from all previous lawsuits with former temporary users of the property.
- An unjust and unfeasible system of pro bono legal assistance is still in force even though it has been a chronic oversight during the negotiations, and was to be changed soon after the change of the administration. We request that the establishment of a new system of pro bono legal assistance, by which access to justice is ensured, and which will enable the engagement of citizens’ organisations that provide legal assistance and are best familiar with the problems of citizens in need, urgently becomes a priority for the Ministry of Justice.
- Despite announcements, there is still no real and sufficient political will on the part of the Government to waive financial claims against the plaintiffs who did not succeed to win their lawsuits brought in connection with the death of a close family member, or brought in order to seek compensation due to suffered terroristic acts. A clear demonstration of Governments will by supporting the adequate decision would eliminate this shameful situation, where not only the dignity of families of civil victims of war is degraded, but also their material well-being is endangered. The absence of such decision is in huge contradiction with the declaratory stance asserted by the Deputy Minister of Justice and by the State Attorney General to waive the claims for collecting the expenses arising from those lawsuits. At the same time, the Ministry of War Veterans understands the problem but is unable to solve it due to insufficient budgetary funds, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs cannot find it possible to act until the Republic of Croatia gets reparations from the Serbian Republic, even though during the election campaign the current Minister of Foreign and European Affairs stated that those claims should be cancelled and that a trust fund for indemnifying all war victims should be established.
- The law on the annulment of certain legal decisions made by the former Yugoslav People’s Army, by the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and by the Republic of Serbia has not been abrogated despite its harmfulness that has been pointed out many times by the representatives of the ruling political party, by the State Attorney General and by the President. It is ironical that this law is the only one that should, according to the assessments of citizen’s organisations, be sent to urgent legislative procedure, while even the State Attorney General himself says he would not apply it.
- There has been no progress whatsoever regarding an issue that was supposed to be solved in the course of negotiations with the European Union, namely the creation of a legal basis for equal provision of housing for all former tenancy holders in the entire territory of the Republic of Croatia, despite the fact that certain functionaries of the new administration have admitted that there are problems, and have promised to take certain measures.Considering that tenancy holders and protected tenants are being sued and requested to compensate the damages, and considering that evictions are being carried out, an urgent reaction of the administration is necessary in order to stop this discriminatory practice.
- A retrogress and not progress in stopping illegal construction and the devastation of the environment; the former government, in the climax of its populist moves, only a few months before the parliamentary elections passed the Law on Dealing with Illegally Constructed Buildings by which almost without any criteria the legalisation of a great portion of illegally built constructions is made possible. The new Government is making a big step backwards by presenting for public discussion the draft on amendments and annexes to this Law, by which even minimal prescribed limitations will be eliminated, thus enabling the legalisation of constructions outside construction areas and on protected seaboard only 70 metres from the coastline, on specially precious agricultural land, and in the protected forests. We call for the repeal of the Law on Dealing with Illegally Constructed Buildings, and for an extensive public discussion that will serve to establish clear criteria for legalisation and for typification of illegally built constructions in order to make a law that shall not enable the devastation of the environment.
- The new administration failed to increase the level of democracy by not amending the Law on Referendums prior to the organised referendum on the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union. Thus, the first referendum since Croatia’s independence was organised hastily, and there was a number of irregular issues, especially the issue of public financing of campaigns designed for promoting and publicising, and the issue of the role of the media; the new administration has been ignoring the request of citizen’s organisations and unions to facilitate the process of organising a referendum by increasing the time-limit for signatures obtainment from 15 to 30 days, by reducing the percentage of required voters’ signatures, and by detailing the matters that cannot be decided by a referendum (the Constitutional Values). Namely, Croatian regulations on this issue are not only unfeasible in practice, but also can be considered among the most restrictive regulations in Europe.
Civil-society organisations which make up Platform 112 will continue individually and jointly their advocacy and research activities with a view to monitoring the Government’s performance and its contribution in meeting the requests of Platform 112. In October 2012 the next report of Platform 112 will be released and it will be focused on assessing the implementation of everything that the new Government has promised to do in order to truly make Croatia a country where the rule of law is respected. We remind the concerned parties that Platform 112 is actively engaged in monitoring the obligations stemming from the negotiations with the EU, and that this Report will serve as a supplement to theEuropean Commission’s report on the continuance of reforms stated in Chapter 23 (April 2012), as well as to the next, annual Report on progress (October 2012).