From the letter of the Minister of Justice and Public Administration Ivan Malenica to GRECO, in which he tried to deal with Gong, it is clear that our concern is justified and that the Commission for the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest will lose its power. The Commission will no longer be able to decide whether an official has acted honestly, fairly, conscientiously, responsibly, and impartially, preserving his or her own credibility and the dignity and trust of citizens. It will be left without this important authority, the power to decide on the general principles of action in the exercise of public office. After Gong warned GRECO last week about attempts to destroy the Commission in Croatia, this Monday we again addressed this specialized anti-corruption body of the Council of Europe to respond to the accusations of the Minister, but also to warn of the pressures we experience as a civil society organization.
The establishment of the Commission for the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest was one of the conditions for concluding accession negotiations with the European Union. Seven years later, after this important anti-corruption body prosecuted the former HDZ president, and opened several cases against the current HDZ leader, Prime Minister Plenković, it could be stifled.
“The commission was not established to perform the role of an ethical body. The commission has taken over power that has no legal basis and for which the judicial authorities in charge of reviewing the legality of the Commission’s decisions have declared it illegal, “the minister wrote to GRECO, reaffirming Gong’s key suspicion that the government would make the commission harmless. Furthermore, the Minister announces the establishment of a new body that could impose penalties.
Instead of the Government following GRECO’s recommendations and strengthening the Commission, introducing sanctions for violating the “principle of action”, the Minister announced the soon adoption of a Code of ethics for officials and formation of a competent body to deal with breaches of the Code of ethics. In other words, instead of strengthening the existing one, the minister announces the establishment of a completely new body. Will this body be defined in such a way that the Government, unlike the “disobedient” Commission, can easily control it?
It is unbelievable and worrying that the Minister of Justice claims that Gong is pressuring the judiciary and undermining trust in institutions. It should be reminded that in the 2020 Report of the European Commission on the rule of law, Croatia is ranked among the most problematic members of the EU, thanks to, among other things, the inefficient judiciary exposed to political pressures.
However, instead of questioning the government’s moves, Minister Malenica is looking for the culprit in a civil society organization that warns of political pressures and fights against the capture of institutions, corrupt practices, and non-transparent public authorities. Gong gained public trust by warning of political threats and corruption, which we will continue to do, no matter how much the ruling structures hate it.
We have previously emphasized that the capture of the institution by the ruling elites leads to the disintegration of their role and function, after which institutions do not do their job, and the trust of citizens dwindles, which inevitably plunges us into a crisis of democracy. We believe that institutions will not become better and more efficient if we remain silent about their decline, and the pressure of the executive officials on the organization of civil society not to raise its voice only confirms the attitude of the officials towards human rights defenders and democratic principles. It also proves how much the government really wants to deal with corruption. This situation reflects in the citizens, who less and less participate in democratic processes because they are also told to remain silent. This practice further breaks the already shaken trust in institutions and the system. Allow us to remind you that, according to the global index of corruption perception, published by Transparency International, Croatia is in an unenviable 63rd place. Of the European Union members, only Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are behind it. The fact that less than half of voters exercised their right to vote in last year’s parliamentary elections – only 47 percent – speaks in favor of a loss of confidence in institutions, politics, and democratic processes, which citizens believe they cannot even access.
Gong believes that corruption in Croatia is largely related to the way institutions function, here we are witnessing an example when the institution really does its job, and therefore it is in the public interest to preserve it, not destroy it through coordinated judicial actions (encouraged) by ruling politicians.
The rule of law is a precondition for ensuring the equality of all before the law and preventing the abuse of power by public bodies, as well as the foundation of democratic control of the government in general.