Nataša Novaković was punished because the HDZ is intent on destroying institutions
While corruption is rampant in Croatia, the ruling HDZ is intent on destroying independent institutions. Nataša Novaković, the president of the The Commission for Conflict of interest, which has initiated several proceedings against Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, has failed to obtain a new mandate.
The final phase of the HDZ operation to restrict the independent body took place in Parliament, where Nataša Novaković did not receive the support of the majority. This further weakened this important body for the health of Croatian democracy, after it had been largely marginalized by the combination of the judiciary, the executive and the parliamentary majority. The commission is only formally alive, but it has been severely disempowered and the person who resented the prime minister has been removed.
Gong condemns this latest act in the HDZ's long-standing narrative of the democratic decline of the Croatian political system. In order to preserve liberal democracy in Croatia, an end must be put to these practices by those in power. The work of independent institutions must be free from political and other pressures.
Independent institutions should control those who have political power so that they do not abuse that power. By imprisoning or marginalizing the controller, the body for preventing conflicts of interest, whose establishment was a condition for joining the EU, there is no doubt that democracy is regressing and opening the door to corruption.
The successor of Dalija Orešković, who also did not want to be re-elected by HDZ, Nataša Novaković, continued to investigate the conflicts of interest of the highest officials, which should be the task of an independent anti-corruption body. After she uncovered Plenković's role in the Borg affair and began investigating the financing of the HDZ trip to the EPP meeting in Helsinki, the prime minister began to criticize her work and refused to send her the requested documents. Later, he called her about a conflict of interest and asked her to take a leave of absence. After he criticized the Commission's work at the press conference, insisting that it misinterpreted its powers and could not make Article 5 decisions, the same arguments were taken up by the Croatian judiciary.
The High Administrative Court, which for years before Plenković's move had affirmed the violation of the principle of action, suddenly changed its practice and formally referred to the Constitutional Court's decision in the Karamarko case. The particular weakness of Article 5, i.e., the impossibility of imposing penalties for violations of ethical principles, could be strengthened in the new Conflict of Interest Prevention Act, which Gong also advocated as a member of the working group. However, Minister of Justice Ivan Malenica, supported by the opinions of the experts he had chosen for the working group, refused to strengthen Article 5 and left it unchanged and useless in the new act (today's Article 6).
The HDZ has attempted to cover up the obvious weakening of the Commission's authority by formally increasing the number of posts that fall under the Commission's control. Although the group of persons required to file a Declaration of Assets has been significantly expanded, this has not been accompanied by an increase in staff capacity in the Commission itself. As a result, the Commission has been virtually demoted to a mere body for managing Declarations of Assets, groaning under a pile of newly received documents in which it is easy to misplace some obvious conflicts of interest of members and employees of the HDZ government. The fundamental task of the Commission, which is to monitor conflicts of interest, has been completely eclipsed. We would like to remind you that this was one of the most important preconditions for Croatia's accession to the European Union.
In Gong’s 2021 paper, "Independent Institutions in the Croatian Political System: a View from the Inside", Dario Čepo describes how institutions can be appropriated, marginalized, and depleted.