Token civil society is shaping the laws against corruption

09. September 2022.
Token civil society is shaping the laws against corruption 1

It’s not just the Parliament which is housing tokens - during Andrej Plenković’s term, tokens were also inserted into working groups, in order to imitate the existence of a critical civil society. Instead of consulting civil society organizations that act as a corrective element for the government, through the promotion of public interest, the government can count on such token organizations to not address anything politically problematic. Especially if it concerns working groups that are preparing anti-corruption laws.

In the Council for the Civil Society Development, through which representatives of organisations of civil society are voted into working groups, the majority is held by state administration bodies, which is controversial in itself. Representatives of ministries and other bodies will always uniformly vote in the same manner, implying the coordination of the state administration in the selection of suitable members of curated civil society for working groups for the adoption of anti-corruption laws.

The last few cases highlight how representatives of CSOs’ completely unrelated to the fight against corruption are almost always elected to the working groups for important anti-corruption laws, while stakeholders who have been dealing with this topic for years, and who would certainly not serve as a “fig leaf” to the government, are frequently left out.

Gong applied to be a member of the working group for the draft of lobbying laws, citing as references its 25 years of experience, a series of anti-corruption research, developed digital tools (ImamoPravoZnati, Parlametar, Mozaik veza), persistent work on the development of democratic political culture, organisation of anti-corruption workshops, as well as advocacy success in the field of transparency and the fight against corruption. Based on the majority of votes in the Council, a representative from the Center for Social Innovation was selected for the working group of the lobbying law. The aforementioned organisation lists the development of social entrepreneurship as its goal, and the projects it implements (Wish for a happier old age, Dignified life) are all aimed at providing social services. One of its team members is Tanja Herceg, the former president of the Youth Council of the City of Daruvar, then president of the Youth Council of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, but also present in the civil sector, through her work in the Association for promoting positive affirmation of youth in society "Impress" Daruvar, and the Center for Social Innovation. A similar path was also followed by her two colleagues, with whom she works both at Impress and at the Centre.

While it is completely legitimate to have representatives of professional lobbyists in the working group, as it is their work which will be the subject of the regulation, we ask: where are the CSOs that deal with transparency, the key element of lobbying as an activity compatible with the public interest?

In the working group for the draft of the Code of Ethics for officials in the executive branch, 3PSplit - Association for the Promotion of Entrepreneurship and Lifelong Education was chosen as the representative of the civic sector, based on the proposal of the Council for the Development of Civil Society. Their activities are aimed at the promotion of entrepreneurship among young people.

The council also selected a representative of civil society from the organization Zamisli, which primarily deals with social services, for the working group on the whistleblower protection law. Miroslav Schlossberg, an expert on open data from the Croatian Association for Open Systems and the Internet (HrOpen), was elected to the working group for amendments to the Law on the Right to Access to Information, two months after the working group was established, and after the draft of the Law had already been finalised.

It is not necessary to formally abolish citizen participation in order to discourage it; rather, the same can be achieved by manipulating democratic procedures and mechanisms. In this case, this also includes appointing select actors without autonomous opinion, that follow the wishes and directions of the ruling party.

If we were to be blunt and call this situation what it is, we should call it an instrumentalization of civil society. The result is the personal gain and strengthened resumes of individuals who receive memberships in groups, while the government gets a juicy and green fig leaf. The public interest, however, remains unrepresented.

The Government should use the instrument of working groups and public consultations in order to receive many different, but competent, opinions and attitudes, as well as to adopt proposals that satisfy the widest possible aspects of society and which act in the public interest in the long term, instead of surrounding itself with like-minded people, or those who will bow down to authority. Through such degradation of democratic institutions and mechanisms, we are all at a loss.