Thursday, 14 February 2019

Public Administration Minister Says Croatia Working to Downsize Bureaucracy!

ZAGREB, February 14, 2019 - Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević on Thursday called well-intentioned the International Monetary Fund's criticism that Croatia should reduce the state administration, saying the government was working on it.

"I agree the state administration and operations should be downsized. However, the government is working on it. Don't forget that we are in the third round of the tax reform, that we have eased the burden on citizens, local and regional self-government units by several billions, that GDP is growing and that the financial growth outlook has also improved," Kuščević told the press.

A journalist remarked that he must admit that no one had the courage to downsize as much as wanted by the IMF, he said it could not be done by saying, "now we'll downsize by 10, 20, 30%."

"The Ministry is working on a stream of projects aimed at downsizing public administration, but these projects must provide the answer as to which administration, how many people, which jobs and who will take them on, and digitisation in itself will result in downsizing," said Kuščević.

A journalist remarked that the IMF said the government should be more ambitious, to which he replied that the criticism was well-intentioned and that the government would analyse them.

The IMF executive directors established that in 2018 Croatia continued its fourth year of positive economic growth as well as its fiscal consolidation albeit at a slower rate, and they also call for improving the country's business climate and rationalisation of the public companies' sectors as well as improvements in bankruptcy legislation.

"The economic expansion continues, driven primarily by private consumption and exports of goods and services," the IMF says in a press release after the conclusion of 2018 Article IV Consultation, on 8 February.

The IMF directors called for more ambitious restructuring of public administration including by reducing high public employment outlays and reducing the fragmentation in sub-national levels of government.

More news on the business climate in Croatia can be found in the Business section.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Ministry Destroys Lists with Invalid Referendum Signatures?

ZAGREB, February 8, 2019 - The Public Administration Ministry commission, set up to verify signatures collected by two civil society groups for their referendum initiatives, has destroyed the checklists with all invalid signatures, Robert Podolnjak of the opposition MOST party said at a meeting of the parliamentary Committee on the Constitution, Rules of Procedure and Political System on Friday.

After finding at its previous meeting that conditions for calling the two referendums had not been met, the Committee was to vote on Podoljnak's proposal that a new, independent commission should check the list with 40,000 signatures that have been declared invalid.

The civil society group The Truth about the Istanbul Convention had launched a signature gathering campaign for a referendum to reverse the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by Parliament, while the People Decide initiative had called for a referendum to change the electoral system. The Public Administration Ministry found that neither group had gathered enough signatures for their referendum petitions as many of the signatures were declared invalid.

Podolnjak said he had received information that the Ministry had destroyed all the checklists with invalid signatures, to which Peđa Grbin of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) said that, if the information was true, the Ministry's move was unacceptable.

Grbin said it would be best to postpone the vote and check the correctness of Podolnjak's statement with the Ministry. Since their proposals were rejected, Podolnjak and Grbin walked out of the meeting and broke the quorum.

"I have received a record of a meeting where the civil initiative The People Decide asked the Public Administration Ministry for access to the checklists of all invalid signatures. They were not able to see the lists because a representative of the Ministry said they had been destroyed. That means that the key proof of over 40,000 invalid signatures no longer exists. The Ministry destroyed it before Parliament could decide on the petition for calling a referendum," Podolnjak told the press after the Committee meeting.

He said that before Parliament took any decisions, he would request submission of the checklists to Parliament, and if the government and the Ministry failed to do that, it would mean that they had irreversibly destroyed the evidence.

"In that case it would be a huge scandal which should not have happened, but it would show the evident intention to obstruct the calling of a referendum. The lists were destroyed by the Public Administration Ministry, its representative on that commission said so. State Secretary Nekić was also present at the meeting of the Committee on the Constitution and he did not deny this information," Podolnjak said.

The Committee chairman, Željko Reiner of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), said that according to his information none of the relevant documents had been destroyed and anyone wishing to check their signature could do so. "We accepted the proposal put forward by Mr Grbin to request an official opinion from the Public Administration Ministry and I expect that it will respond very quickly," Reiner said.

The Public Administration Ministry on Friday responded to the claim by MOST MP Robert Podolnjak that checklists with invalid signatures collected for two civil society referendum initiatives had been destroyed, stating that the checklists were a technical aid whose purpose ceased to exist once the report on the verification of the number and authenticity of voters' signatures was compiled.

The Ministry said that all the data from the signature lists were entered into an application, adding that the checklists were working material for the commission and contained a list of invalid signatures that were entered between the commission's meetings and were handed over successively to make the verification process quicker and more thorough.

The checklists indicated the position of the invalid signature in the box, volume, page and line and the reason for its invalidity. The commission reviewed the checklists and determined whether or not any of the invalid signatures should subsequently be included.

As the checklists contained personal data that was also saved in the application, keeping them in paper form after the cessation of their purpose would have presented an unnecessary risk of someone getting a hold of those lists with the details of signatories, which is why they were destroyed after their purpose ceased to exist, the Ministry said in its explanation.

The Ministry also enclosed the report on the verification of voters' signatures that were declared invalid. The report says that the Public Administration Ministry had allowed representatives of the civil initiatives to inspect all the signatures that were declared invalid, while observing personal data protection rules.

More news on the referendum initiatives can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Amid Controversy, Referendum Act to Be Amended

ZAGREB, January 21, 2019 - Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević said on Monday a task force working on amendments to the Referendum Act would hold its first meeting on Tuesday.

The amendments will define deadlines for collecting and verifying signatures as well as for parliament to decide whether a referendum will be called.

Kuščević told reporters the amendments would remove the existing legal loopholes, saying the current law did not define the deadline by which parliament must decide on referendum petitions.

The amendments are planned to be on the government's agenda in the first quarter of the year. "I believe the new law will contribute to greater transparency and a better implementation of referendums as a good form of expression of our fellow citizens' wishes."

Asked if the amended law would stipulate in which cases referendums could not be called, Kuščević said the answer would be given by the task force experts. He voiced confidence they will provide solutions which will protect democracy, the constitution and citizens' right to decide in referendums.

Speaking of the Constitutional Court's dismissal of "The Truth about the Istanbul Convention" and "The People Decide" referendum petitions, Kuščević said it was now up to parliament to decide if there existed conditions for calling referendums on cancelling the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and on amending election legislation as proposed by the pertaining civil initiative.

He believes parliament will conclude the two initiatives did not collect the required number of signatures for calling the two referendums and that parliament will not have to ask the Constitutional Court's opinion.

He said the Court had explained everything clearly in its dismissal and that it was up to parliament to decide whether to call the referendums. "Given that the government's report is transparent, extensive, objective and true, as confirmed by the Constitutional Court, that everything was done in line with the constitution and legal rules, I expect parliament to conclude very soon that the two initiatives didn't collect the legally required number of valid signatures, a minimum 10%, and that it simply won't call a referendum."

Kuščević dismissed the initiatives' claims that the Public Administration Ministry had stalled the verification of signatures.

More news on the referendum initiatives in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

State Bureaucracy Hiring More Civil Servants

ZAGREB, January 5, 2019 - The opposition MOST party called out Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević on Saturday, saying that by announcing the hiring of more civil servants, he is actually announcing a "new party-based personnel policy in public administration" at a time when 180 people are moving out of Croatia every day.

"At a time when 180 people are moving out of Croatia daily, when young and educated people are running away from a public administration system which doesn't encourage excellence but suitability, Minister Kuščević is increasing the number of civil servants and avoiding the implementation of essential reforms," MOST said in a press release.

The statement was prompted by an article in today's Jutarnji List daily which says that state services advertised 39 vacancies on the last day of 2018.

MOST said the European Commission adopted an action plan for the development of public administration in February 2017 and that since then only 0.45% of the 880 million kuna available had been absorbed.

"This government does not have a vision of public administration as a service for citizens," MOST MP Sonja Čikotić said in the press release, wondering how Kuščević can boast of time saving thanks to the digitisation of some services when the number of civil servants has not been cut down.

She said Kuščević did not have a solution for a better public administration, but was using every opportunity for new hiring instead of having immediately embarked on downsizing and computerisation.

"Now we are even more convinced that it is first necessary to cancel 10,000 employment contracts and then hire based on competencies necessary for a modern Croatia," said MOST MP Ante Pranić.

 More news on MOST can be found in our Politics section.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Not Enough Signatures Collected for Referendum Petitions

ZAGREB, October 17, 2018 - Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević said on Wednesday that none of the two referendum initiatives managed to collect the required number of signatures for the petitions for their referenda: one on changing the election legislation and the second on the abrogation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

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.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Minister: Croatia Is an Example for National Minority Rights

ZAGREB, February 20, 2018 - Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević said on Tuesday that national minorities in Croatia have a great status and that Croatia can be an example to all countries in the region.

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