Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Second Sitting of the Committee on the Judiciary, Public Administration and Local Self-Government

At the second sitting, held on 14 September, the members of the Committee on the Judiciary, Public Administration and Local Self-Government considered the Ombudsman’s 2015 Regular Annual Report, Report on the implementation of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance and the Law on Personal Data Protection in 2015 and the Commissioner for Protection of Equality 2015 Regular Annual Report.

The Ombudsman’s 2015 Regular Annual Report was presented by Deputy Ombudsman Milos Jankovic who said that the Report contains data on the situation as regards civil rights in Serbia in 2015, flaws perceived in the work of the public administration bodies and the Ombudsman’s recommendations how they should be remedied. He added that the initial assessment of the Report is that the civil rights in 2015 were marked by a lack of legal security and economic insecurity. The reforms launched in the country have not yet given results and the most vulnerable population groups continue to be the poor, children, young people, the elderly, refugees, national minorities, people with disorders, human rights spokespeople and others. According to the data the regular citizen is the most endangered because the society lacks a system to eliminate irregularities in the operation of the institutions evidenced by the fact that in the last year the citizens addressed their problems to the Ombudsman as the first and not the last resort when seeking protection of their rights, said Jankovic. In 2015 the Ombudsman had submitted 15 initiatives and proposals to the National Assembly and other authorities, and human rights have been hindered by different challenges, among them the migrant crisis in which Serbia reacted in a humane way. Also, last year saw a decrease in complaints against Serbia before the Court of Human Rights. The Report also states that last year the National Assembly passed 182 laws, 44% of which by urgent procedure and most of the bills did not go through public debate, which resulted in discrepancies or even contradictions between the laws and other regulations. The Report also assessed public administration reform which has shown some progress in the shape of new strategic documents, but has failed to give visible results because the problems remained the same which lead to violations of civil rights. The Report also assessed the work of the Communal Police and the documents regulating the work of the Police. According to the Report progress has been made in the prevention of torture, based on the cooperation between the Ombudsman and the Institution for the Execution of Criminal Sanctions, said the Deputy Ombudsman.

Following a lengthy debate focusing of specific parts of the Report and the Ombudsman’s overall work, the Committee members agreed to vote on the Conclusion Proposal at a subsequent sitting.

The Committee went on to review the Report on the implementation of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance and the Law on Personal Data Protection in 2015 presented by the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection Rodoljub Sabic who spoke of the characteristic trends observed in the field.

He said that the relation between the public and the government is better today, and information of public importance is supplied to the public even without intervention by the Commissioner. Sabic said that the Commissioner’s service has been reducing the numbers of citizens’ complaints as a result of an increased number of people working the cases, yet the problems they come across in their work remain the same. The chief problem is accountability for violations of the law in view of the fact that for years such violations drew no accountability, so the existing law should be amended in order to eliminate this problem. The Commissioner reminded the Committee that the Bill amending and modifying the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance had been withdrawn from Assembly procedure in 2012 and has yet to be returned into it. Sabic also spoke of new types of authority i.e. the public attitude to the new functions of notaries public and executors which need to be regulated. As a big problem the Commissioner mentioned transparency in the operation of public enterprises which, he said, have a special kind of problem in communication with the public. Speaking of personal data protection Sabic listed the problems he believes the state should address systematically by amending regulations, establishing operative mechanisms and logistics and training. He opined that personal data protection in being brutally breached at all levels.

The Committee also considered the Commissioner for Protection of Equality 2015 Regular Annual Report.

The Committee members were briefed on the Report by the Commissioner for Protection of Equality Brankica Jankovic who said that the structure of the Report contains information on the institution of Commissioner, overview of the normative framework for the promotion of equality, description of the state-of-play as regards equality, Commissioner’s actions on the suppression of discrimination, cooperation with public authorities and civil society, activities realised, overview of media reports, execution of the financial plan, reports on actions undertaken as per the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, 19 recommendations for the suppression of discrimination, promotion of equality and statistical overview of the Commissioner’s work.

Commissioner Jankovic said that the institution’s public visibility, accessibility and recognition has been increased, the numbers of civil complaints has also risen as has the number of citizens who address the Commissioner for advice or assistance. In 2015 the institution also passed a strategic plan for the period 2016 – 2020. Jankovic said that though the existing regulations provide a good legal framework and instruments for protection against discrimination, its prevention and suppression, the need to adjust them to the anti-discrimination regulations and standards still remains, which is mentioned in the European Commission Report. In 2015 the Commissioner handled 1,040 cases, 797 complaints lodged by citizens and legal entities, and gave 215 equality-related recommendations and measures. The Commissioner also filed 13 strategic lawsuits for protection, six of which were resolved in the Commissioner’s favour. Analysing the structure of the citizens’ complaints Jankovic said that most of them concerned discrimination based on gender, nationality, disability and age. She said that it can be noted that women are the most likely victims of discrimination, followed by persons with disabilities and members of the Roma national minority.

Following an in-depth debate on the reports the Committee members will be voting on the conclusion proposals at a subsequent sitting.

The sitting was attended by the following Committee members and deputy members: Natasa Micic, Slavisa Bulatovic, Vladan Zagradjanin, Djordje Komlenski, Dusan Petrovic, Jovan Palalic, Sreto Peric, Tanja Tomasevic Damnjanovic, Zarko Micin, Balint Pasztor, Biljana Pantic Pilja, Dr Aleksandar Martinovic, Katarina Rakic, Miletic Mihajlovic, Vjerica Radeta and Dusan Pavlovic.

The sitting was chaired by Committee Chairman Petar Petrovic.

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