#03 PREVENT MISUSE OF PUBLIC RESOURCES IN THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN
The Copenhagen document provides for a clear separation of the state and political parties (CD 5.4). The Code of Good Practice emphasises the principle of equal opportunities, ensuring equality of parties and candidates (VC I.2.3.a). In order to achieve this, it is necessary for the state authorities to have a neutral attitude towards the participants, especially in relation to the election campaign (I.2.3.a.i) and the public financing of the parties and the campaign (I.2.3.a.iii). In order for these standards to be met, it is necessary to undertake the following:
a. Ensure consistent interpretation of legal provisions on misuse of public resources
Although amendments to the Anti-Corruption Agency Act (the Law on Prevention of Corruption), adopted in December 2019, defining the concept of public resources more precisely, and introducing short deadlines to undertake actions in the campaign, somewhat improved the Agency’s actions on complaints, the interpretation of these provisions by the Agency remained controversial in certain proceedings against public officials.
b. Consistent sanctions for the misuse of property, names and activities of public companies for political purposes
Through amendments to the Law on Public Companies made in December 2019, the accountability of the director who uses the resources of the public company for the promotion of political parties, i.e. political entities, is specified, which especially refers to the use of official premises, vehicles and inventory of the public company free of charge. The changes also stipulate that directors be dismissed if they were aware that employees or otherwise employed personnel are abusing the public resources of the company for political and party purposes, and they do not take actions to prevent it. In order for these changes to yield results in practice, it is necessary for the competent institutions to consistently sanction persons accountable for non-compliance with the Law.
c. Prohibit public officials at all levels from actively participating in public events during the election campaign which promote the plans or results of the work of public bodies, organisations and public services
Amend the Anti-Corruption Agency Act so that all public officials are forbidden from actively participating in public gatherings during the election campaign, promoting plans and results of public authorities, organisations and public services, with the primary objective to announce the commencement of works or the commissioning of facilities built from budgetary resources or public funds, or by other legal entities with public capital at their disposal. In addition, it is necessary to find an adequate solution that would prevent public officials from abusing resources during the campaign. In case of violation of this legal provision, it is necessary to prescribe adequate fines for public officials.
d. Prohibit extraordinary allocation of budget and other public funds during the election campaign, as well as 30 days before and after the campaign
Amendments to the Law on Prevention of Corruption should prohibit extraordinary use of budget and other public funds during the election campaign, as well as 30 days before and after the campaign. This prohibition would specifically refer to extraordinary payments of salaries, pensions, social benefits, payments of annual or one-time transfers, allocation and payment of resources from public funds, grants. Besides, it is necessary to prohibit legal entities whose founder, partial and/or majority owner is the state or local self-government units or which is financed in whole or in part by budget funds, to write off various debts to citizens during this period (e.g. bills for consumed electricity, water, garbage collection or other types of public utility services).
e. Extend the ban on the misuse of public resources to public sector employees who are not public officials or civil servants
The implementation of this recommendation requires the amendment of article 23, paragraph 2 of the Law on Financing Political Activities, in such a way that the prohibition of misuse of public resources by political entities would be extended to funds available to employees of public services established by the Republic of Serbia, an autonomous province, municipality, city or city municipality (for example: doctors), as well as to employees in public companies and companies established to perform activities in areas where public services are established (for example: employees in the Public Company Electric Power Industry of Serbia).