In Croatia, agencies, councils, committees and similar entities appear like mushrooms after rain. Given the fact that their existence is accompanied closely by politicization, clientelism and low efficiency while communication with the public is not their strong side, the citizens wonder if there is another purpose to them apart of providing “sinecure” to the favoured ones. On the other hand, the “agencyfication” phenomenon is present in many other countries and the existence of these bodies is not meaningless if they are professional and out of reach of political control – it was concluded at the thematic discussion “Good Governance in Public Agencies” held at the conference “Right to Good Administration in Croatian Practice”, organized by GONG.
“Exclusion from direct and constant political control is one of the main purposes of the agency model, and it is replaced by other models of liability – financial, legal, accountability for results and democratic monitoring. The agencies have existed before, but their number has been significantly increased in the process of Europeanisation. At the moment, we have 75 agencies, after the cutbacks in the past three years. It is crucial that agencies are recognised as a separate institutional form which requires regulation and special forms of control, as this causes numerous problems in their management”, Anamarija Musa from The Institute of Public Administration stated. She is also an assistant professor at the Faculty of Law, and the author of the study “Institutional and legal framework for good governance in Croatian agencies”.
“Political will is required for substantial changes, as well as resources and parallel reform of the state administration, accompanied by meeting the standards of good governance in agencies, which include impact assessments prior to agency establishment and its periodical evaluation, ensuring independence and professionalism and functional control mechanisms”, Musa continued and concluded: “In order to improve transparency, a data base of agencies should be developed and mechanisms of consultations and other forms of public participation should be implemented, as well as the anti-corruption legislative. Civil society organisations can participate in monitoring of the work of agencies in various ways, one of them being development of case studies according to a previously agreed upon methodology”.
When laws become pests
Althoughthe importance of norms should not be underestimated, , good governance cannot be achieved merely by legislation. Ivan Koprić, President of The Institute of Public Administration and professor at The Faculty of Law, spoke in line with this notion. He thinks there is no logic behind a special law on agencies. The professor stated that a task force to prepare a draft for the new law on state administration system has been formed in the Ministry of Public Administration, which is a good thing, as he reminded “that he has always spoken against the existing law, referring to it as a pest of a law which has been existing in our country since 1993 with a concept that did not change significantly up to the present day. Although some countries have special laws on agencies, if we have an opportunity to regulate the entire matter under the scope of one law, then it should be done, because the entire state administration, not only agencies should be professional”.
“The key thing is that the agencies do their job, meaning their work is in the interest of the interested and general public. However, many do not do that and this is the main reason why they are submitted to public scrutiny in a sensationalistic manner and why they are perceived as safe havens for installation of political elements. Although the perspective of the media remains more or less the same, the problem is that the ones who do not work, conceal information and do not like to communicate with journalists, because they know that it would lead to a risk of their dismissal while communication is even worse with some publicly owned companies, whereas in other countries they are the good examples”, warned Hrvoje Šimičević, a h-alter.org portal journalist
Ernest Strika, Deputy President of the Council which manages the Agency for Electronic Media , stressed that agencies had different starting positions and that some had to start from scratch, without even the basic organisational and structural framework in place. He thinks it is necessary that the functions of the Director and the Council of the Agency are separated and the competences of the employees should be taken into account, not forgetting, however that it is very difficult to find a person with adequate competences on the market without providing adequate pay.
How to prevent the supervised from taking over the regulators?
“Independence is achieved by knowledge and credibility above all, because in order to be able to be a leader of anything one must before all be professional and continuously trained in order to be ahead of change”, Olgica Spevec, Head of the Croatian Competition Agency stressed and added: “Once I told our ex-prime minister that he can install his man on my position and that he will obey him once, but that the decisions one makes and the one works determine a person. . Education and professional staff are exceptionally important, which should both guarantee that the decisions are made in favour of citizens and the economy. The key is to separate professional staff from the governing body, and that one person is never the only one leading a procedure. As for the pressures, not a single entrepreneur attempted to put pressure on me, unlike a series of politicians.
Tomislav Mičetić, Secretary General of the Ministry of Public Administration pointed out that the system of functioning internal control is important, and that the indicators of its functioning exist in the form of the number of appeals accepted by the Administrative Court. He stated that the changes in agencies implemented by the , will not be made overnight, but that they are heading in the direction of efficient planning, because without that it will be difficult to control results, and the long-term goal is to make them as efficient as possible, not necessarily cheaper, because quality is not cheap.