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News 22 Feb 17

Serbian President’s Staff Proposed as Anti-Corruption Officials

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic’s suggested new candidates for senior positions at Serbia’s Anti-Corruption Agency have been criticised because they are both members of his own staff.

Vanja Djuric
BIRN
Belgrade

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic I Photo: Beta/Milos Miskov

Concerns have been raised about two proposed candidates for the board of the Anti-Corruption Agency who were put forward earlier this month by President Tomislav Nikolic because both of them work for the presidency.

“I see this as a conflict of loyalty,” a former member of the Anti-Corruption Agency board, Zoran Stojiljkovic, told BIRN.

“Even if they are people with high moral integrity, this situation always leaves space for doubts that you will always be loyal to the one you worked for. And here it is very important to be independent of any influence,” Stojiljkovic said.

There are no legal barriers to either of them being appointed to the positions because they are not political party members, but there are concerns about whether their allegiances would lie, said campaign group Transparency Serbia.

“The Serbian president sent a new list with two candidates, who are again his associates, who according to the information available have fulfilled the legal conditions since they are not party members,” Transparency Serbia said in a statement on Monday.

Nikolic withdrew two previous nominations, both of whom also worked for him, after negative public reactions and claims that both were, or recently had been, members of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

The new names suggested by Nikolic to parliament are Nenad Tesic, a member of the president’s Amnesty Commission and a lecturer at the Law Faculty of the University of East Sarajevo, and Marko Blagojevic, a senior associate for human resources and regulatory affairs at the president’s office.

Jelisaveta Vasilic, a member of the Anti-Corruption Council, an advisory body which proposes anti-corruption measures and addresses public complaints about graft, expressed concern that Nikolic’s candidates are unknown to her even though she has worked for the Council for 16 years.

“I’ve never heard of them or that they were fighting against corruption,” Vasilic told BIRN.

She noted that the Agency deals with political party financing and checking up on politicians’ property, amongst other things, and so requires staff who can deal with such sensitive issues responsibly.

Stojiljkovic said meanwhile that proposed amendments to the law that regulates the Anti-Corruption Agency would address such ethical issues, but the legislative changes have not been discussed by MPs yet.

The Agency’s board should have nine members, and its decisions can only be valid if taken by a quorum of five members. At present, the board only has six members.

Parliament decides who to appoint after candidates are recommended by the parliamentary administrative board, the president, the prime minister, the president of the Supreme Court, and the State Audit Institution. Joint candidates are also put forward by the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, and by the Social Economic Council, the Lawyers Association and journalists’ associations.

The board has not has a full complement since 2013, when the mandate of Zlatko Minic, who was nominated by journalists’ associations, expired. A replacement has not yet been selected.

Branko Lubarda, who was proposed by the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, resigned in February last year and has not yet been replaced.

Dragana Kolaric also left the board in December to become a judge on the Constitutional Court, and Zoran Stojiljkovic resigned at the same time to become president of the Independence trade union.

After the board lost these five members, only one new one was appointed, Danica Marinkovic, in December 2016.

Marinkovic was the candidate of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, and was proposed via the parliamentary administrative board.

Her candidacy was opposed by the Humanitarian Law Centre NGO because she was an investigative judge at the District Court in Pristina during the war in Kosovo and a defence witness in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague Tribunal.

The two previous nominations withdrawn by President Nikolic were the presidency’s general secretary, Nedeljko Tenjovic, and Sanja Maric, the president’s senior associate advisor for culture and a member of the Belgrade city assembly.

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