Thursday, 6 December 2018

Ruling Party Denies It Will Dismiss Conflict of Interest Commission

ZAGREB, December 6, 2018 - Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) whip Branko Bačić told reporters on Wednesday that he did not know where Conflict of Interest Commission chair Nataša Novaković had got the information that "there is a realistic possibility that the Commission will be replaced", adding that changes to the relevant legislation did not envisage the dissolution of the Commission.

"I don't know where the Commission chair got that information. This is the first time I hear about this, there have been no discussions on the matter whatsoever. It is a fact that the Public Administration Ministry is working on changes to the Act on the Prevention of Conflict of Interest, but I have not heard that they envisage dissolving the Commission," Bačić said in a comment on Novaković's statement in an interview with Nova TV on Tuesday.

Bačić disagreed with Novaković's claim that "the Commission has been exposed to pressure, which is not the case with other bodies."

"We all have the right to comment on decisions of state bodies. The opposition and the ruling majority often comment on the work of the human rights ombudswoman, the children's ombudswoman, as well as on decisions of judicial bodies and the prosecutorial authorities. There is no reason to criticise anyone for commenting on individual decisions. The more so as some decisions made by this Commission are subject to verification by the Administrative Court or the Constitutional Court. We comment on the work of state officials so why should not we be allowed to comment on the Commission's decisions? That seems pretty normal in a democracy," said Bačić.

Asked about the difference between the cases of former HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko and incumbent Finance Minister Zdravko Marić, on which the Conflict of Interest Commission ruled, and why Karamarko had to leave his post over conflict of interest while Marić does not have to, Bačić said that he had found "data showing that 13 ministers in the SDP-led Zoran Milanović government were either involved in a classic conflict of interest or violated the principle of holding a public office or in some other way violated the Act on the Prevention of Conflict of Interest, and none of them resigned over that."

"The HDZ party group is confident that Minister Marić did not do anything to violate the Act on the Prevention of Conflict of Interest because he did not acquire any gain for himself that would prevent him from continuing to hold his office," Bačić said, refusing to comment on Karamarko's case and advising reporters to ask Karamarko for comment.

Bačić's coalition partner Milorad Batinić, the whip of the Croatian People's Party (HNS), said that as far as his party was concerned, Novaković and the Conflict of Interest Commission had no reason whatsoever to fear possible replacement over decisions that did not suit the ruling majority, adding that he did not know why the HNS would mind the Commission's decisions.

He noted that his party had certain objections to the bill on the prevention of conflict of interest that was being worked on and that the bill should be improved in order to not only make it possible to determine conflict of interest situations but also to prevent conflict of interest.

For more on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia, click here.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

“Prime Minister Downplaying Conflict of Interest Ruling”

ZAGREB, December 5, 2018 - The GONG nongovernmental organisation on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Andrej Plenković of "dangerously downplaying" the Conflict of Interest Commission's decision on Finance Minister Zdravko Marić and former Economy Minister Martina Dalić regarding the case of dealing with the crisis surrounding the ailing private Agrokor group.

The Commission decided on Monday that Dalić and Marić had violated the principle of holding public office in the case of the indebted Agrokor food and retail conglomerate. The violation does not carry any penalties.

On Tuesday, Plenković stressed that the Commission did not examine "the concept of conflict of interest" and that it did not find that either Marić or former economy minister Martina Dalić had been in a conflict of interest. “It's very important that this message be understood clearly, based on what and about what exactly the Commission was deciding. The Commission examined solely... the principles of holding office," he told reporters when asked if Marić should resign, as demanded by the opposition.

Plenković's statement prompted the GONG association to accuse the prime minister of showing contempt towards the Commission. It also recalled that Plenković's predecessor as HDZ president Tomislav Karamarko had to step down from the government after the Commission had established that he had been in a conflict of interest when he had advocated Croatia's withdrawal from an arbitration procedure with Hungary's MOL over the leading Croatian oil and gas company INA.

The NGO insisted that the process of the adoption of Lex Agrokor was deeply compromised and that therefore Plenković should be held to account before the Commission.

Finance Minister Marić said on Tuesday he would take legal steps to contest the Conflict of Interest Commission decision under which he violated the principle of holding public office in the Agrokor case.

The leaders of the parliamentary opposition parties GLAS, HSS, IDS and HSS on Tuesday held a news conference at which they said that Marić "must go" following Monday's decision by the Conflict of Interest Commission.

Commenting on the Commission's decision, the leader of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), Krešo Beljak, also noted that: "The name of this body is the Conflict of Interest Commission and there was no mention of conflict of interest in its decision. ... If Marić and Dalić were in a conflict of interest, the Commission should have said so, because that would have political consequences such as resignation and the involvement of the State Attorney's Office in this whole affair. The problem is that state institutions are not independent and that's why we have such a lukewarm decision."

The leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Davor Bernardić, said that "this government is a conflict of interest."

For more on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia, click here.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Foreign Ministry Defends Appointment of Ambassador to UK

ZAGREB, November 24, 2018 - The Foreign Ministry on Friday defended Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, against whom the Conflict of Interest Commission decided to launch proceedings over the appointment of his close friend as Croatia's ambassador to UK.

The Commission launched the proceedings because, when Igor Pokaz was appointed to the post, Plenković did not inform the public that he had been Pokaz's best man at his wedding.

Plenković said the Commission's decision was "without arguments and unnecessary" and the Foreign Ministry came to his defence, saying Pokaz was an expert with a vast career. "Reducing his appointment to a personal acquaintance would mean to negate and devalue his professional achievements," the ministry said.

Plenković did not nominate Pokaz nor could he exempt himself from the appointment in which the president, the government and parliament's foreign affairs committee take part, it added.

In the case in question, the prime minister, based on a government decision and the opinion of the parliamentary committee, gave his co-signature for the president's decision, and the procedure was done entirely in line with the constitution and other regulations, the ministry said, adding that decisions on the appointments of ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions as well as on their dismissals are made by the president.

Under the constitution, the prime minister cannot exempt himself from decisions on the appointments of ambassadors, and the appointments and dismissals of heads of diplomatic missions cannot be done without a co-decision by the prime minister and the president, the ministry said.

Plenković used the same argument when commenting on the decision of the Conflict of Interest Commission. "Legally it's not possible to exempt oneself."

For more on Croatia’s relations with the United Kingdom, click here.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Conflict of Interest Proceedings Launched against Plenković

ZAGREB, November 23, 2018 - The Conflict of Interest Commission on Friday decided to launch proceedings to establish if Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was in conflict of interest when he failed to inform the public that Igor Pokaz, who has recently been appointed Croatia's ambassador to Great Britain, was the best man at his wedding.

The commission's vice chairman Davorin Ivanjek said that during the appointment of Pokaz, a career diplomat, to the ambassadorial post in London, Plenković should have informed the public that Pokaz was his best man and that he should have notified the relevant authorities that participated in the decision-making process.

Plenković should have informed the government officials who prepared the nomination of Pokaz at the proposal of the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry, said Ivanjek.

Ivanjek also commented that Plenković should also have notified President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who co-signs appointment decisions.

Ivanjek assessed that this failure amounted to a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act.

Ivanjek says that the Commission will ask constitutional and law experts to give their opinions on whether Plenković could have exempted himself from the procedure of co-signing the decision on appointing Pokaz as the ambassador, considering the fact that such decisions are first co-signed by the head of government and then by the head of state, who makes a final decision.

Plenković said on Friday that the Conflict of Interest Commission has unfoundedly and unnecessarily launched proceedings against him and underscored that the prime minister cannot be excluded from the process of appointing diplomats.

"All legislation regulating the appointment of heads of diplomatic missions and consular offices does not foresee any variant of the exemption of the prime minister. Therefore, legally they cannot be exempted," Plenković told reporters.

Commenting on the complaint filed by MOST MP Miro Bulj, Plenković underscored that he participated in the selection process that ended with the appointment of someone he has known since 1994, someone whom he worked with and who has already been a Croatian diplomat in the North Atlantic Alliance, the Russian Federation and who worked in our mission to the United Nations and held several other diplomatic positions.

Pokaz, a career diplomat, was Permanent Representative to NATO and Ambassador to Russia, among other things, before his ambassadorial position in London, according to his CV available on the foreign ministry's web site.

"I believe then that I didn't do anything out of the ordinary, in fact, I did something good because he does his job well," Plenković claimed. He underscored that, in that regard, there is no way that he would exempt himself from the role that he was democratically elected to and won the confidence for in parliament.

On the other hand, that would mean that I would have to exempt myself when appointing any diplomat. "They are more or less all my friends, acquaintances, colleagues. We've known each other for 25 years. How will the Commission ascertain that someone, other than Mr Pokaz, wasn't close to me...if I were to appoint them to some other position," Plenković questioned.

Former prime minister Zoran Milanović, who comes from that same circle, was in the same position when he appointed deputy foreign minister Joško Klisović who was his best man. Was that a matter of conflict of interest?, Plenković added.

It is unbelievable, he added that the Commission didn't see the government's opinion on Pokaz's application for that position, even though it was registered accordingly. "We went a step further than some interpretations of parts of the law and that is what I am referring to without trying to mount pressure. We will open everything and I think that at the moment this is unfounded and unnecessary," he added.

Asked whether he believed that commission was politicised, Plenković said that that body was supposed to work in accordance with the law but also that it should observe the principle of purposefulness. "This is an example of a complaint by an opposition political party for some pointless question to be raised and I consider it to be excessive and am not entirely sure that it is beneficial to the general climate in these matters," he said.

Responding to a reporter's comment that he seemed to be a frequent target of complaints to the commission, Plenković said that complaints to the commission and pressing criminal charges seem to have "become a sport," for some. "Like we have done until now, we will respond calmly to all the questions that will be asked," he said.

For more on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia, click here.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Conflict of Interest Commission Clashes with Government

ZAGREB, November 21, 2018 - The chair of the Conflict of Interest Commission, Nataša Novaković, dismissed on Tuesday as "absolutely inappropriate" the statement by Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević that the Commission is slowly being put in the service of politics, saying that the Commission is an independent body and will not be influenced by politics.

Novaković had announced in an interview with the "24 sata" (24 Hours) newspaper that the Conflict of Interest Commission would look into the November 7 trip of a delegation of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party to a European People's Party (EPP) conference in Helsinki by government plane as well as who had paid for the officials' accommodation and possibly per diems.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Kuščević said he had not received any request for information from the Conflict of Interest Commission. "I must say that there is certain concern in legal circles in Croatia about the quality of decisions rendered by the Commission. We have seen that its decisions have been frequently overturned by the Administrative Court. ... This is really a matter for concern and it suggests that this Commission, which should be apolitical and independent, is slowly being put in the service of politics. We could also see this in the case of former chair Dalija Orešković, and I wouldn't want other Commission members to follow her example," Kuščević said. He added that the Commission should do its job, but should not be politicised.

Commenting on Kuščević's statement following a query from Hina, Novaković said: "The Commission is an independent body and it will not be, nor has it been, influenced by politics. I don't understand the context in which Mr Kuščević advised the Commission to deal with the law and not with politics. We do not deal with politics at all. The Commission is a neutral body and I think that the minister's decision to communicate in this way with an independent body is absolutely inappropriate."

As for the case in question, she said that the Commission had opened it on Friday and had met on Monday to discuss what questions to address to state bodies. She said that most of the letters had already been sent to the relevant authorities. "If they don't get the requests for information and documentation by the close of business today, they will certainly get them tomorrow," Novaković said.

Novaković said that in the last six years the Commission had rendered 537 decisions, of which 10 percent ended up before the Administrative Court. Five decisions have been overturned by final rulings and another two have been overturned pending completion of the appeal process, she added.

For more on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia, click here.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Conflict of Interest Rules to Change to Accommodate Finance Minister?

ZAGREB, November 16, 2018 - Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said on Thursday the media claims that the Conflict of Interest Act was being amended because of him were someone's fabrication and that this law should identify conflict of interest and abuses but not prevent someone who came to the government from the private sector from returning there.

"I, as minister of finance... tomorrow practically couldn't work anywhere in Croatia," Marić said, responding to questions from the press.

The media have recently said that Marić is going to the Adris tourism and insurance group and that, because him, a provision on a year-long cooling period, under which former office holders could not be appointed to supervisory committees and other bodies for one year after the end of their term, is being thrown out of a bill of amendments to the Conflict of Interest Act.

Asked what he meant when he said that he would remain minister "until further notice" but not until the end of his term, Marić said he already answered and that, "as far as I know, I am still minister" and that he was focused on a set of tax laws.

He said the bill was in the remit of the Public Administration Ministry and that a public consultation on it was held over the summer. "I no longer know what stage it's in, but now someone has fabricated this whole story, to connect it with me."

Earlier today, asked by the press why the cooling period provision was thrown out of the bill, Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević said nothing was thrown out, that the bill was still being agreed, and that the media calling it Lex Maric was ridiculous.

For more on Croatia’s finance minister, who is often in the media spotlight and no stranger to various controversies, click here.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Bernardić Scholarship Investigated by Conflict of Interest Commission

ZAGREB, October 25, 2018 - Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Davor Bernardić said on Thursday that he would honour any decision of the Conflict of Interest Commission after it initiated proceedings against him for receiving a scholarship from Zagreb's Cotrugli Business School.  The scholarship from the private company Cotrugli d.o.o., which owns Cotrugli Business School, is seen as a donation and an impermissible gift.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Conflict of Interest Proceedings Launched against Prime Minister

ZAGREB, September 28, 2018 - The Conflict of Interest Commission decided on Friday to launch proceedings against Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the leader of the opposition MOST party and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Božo Petrov, over their activities in the drafting of the law on the indebted Agrokor food and retail conglomerate.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Conflict of Interest Case against Finance Minister Reopened

ZAGREB, August 27, 2018 - The Conflict of Interest Commission on Monday reopened a case against Finance Minister Zdravko Marić regarding the Agrokor case and merged it with a newly-lodged complaint filed against him by the Živi Zid party. It also opened a case concerning Interior Minister Davor Božinović.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Government Denies Attempt to Curtail Powers of Conflict of Interest Commission

ZAGREB, May 26, 2018 - Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević said on Friday that the final version of the bill on the prevention of conflict of interest would be ready by the end of next week, noting that the new bill would not restrict the powers of the parliamentary Conflict of Interest Commission but would rather expand them as well as the circle of officials to which it would apply.

Page 5 of 7