Full integration into Europe – through membership in the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – is high on the agenda for Montenegro. But certain membership requirements still must be fulfilled.
One area that government ministries are addressing is communication with the parliament, municipal governments and civil society, and they have asked NDI for help. The Institute, which has been working in Montenegro for more than 10 years on political party development, election reform and parliamentary strengthening, was approached by the minister of environment and spatial planning for help with internal communication and external outreach.
That program has now expanded to other ministries, including the Ministry of Interior and Public Administration and the Ministry of Finance. Scott Persons, NDI’s resident director in Montenegro, explains how the Institute’s program works.
What is the biggest challenge Montenegro currently faces?
The country is one of the smallest in Europe with a population of 650,000 and has only been independent since 2006. Since it has chosen to pursue membership in the EU as its top priority, the country must undergo a series of challenging reforms to achieve this goal. The ministries have found that their legacy approach to policy making is not as inclusive as it needs to be. All too often, government officials are surprised when they encounter strong citizen opposition to policies that were formed without citizen input.
How does our programming help to make the government more cohesive?
The NDI governance program in Montenegro was developed to help bring about a more open and accountable process and to give government officials the tools they need to develop a more inclusive policy-making process that considers varying interests at the beginning of the process. NDI offers ministry staff training in strategic thinking and planning techniques to help staff understand the importance of identifying a policy agenda and planning a policy development process that includes interested parties, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), municipalities and the parliament throughout the process. Overwhelmingly, our partners feel empowered by the techniques we’ve shared and, more importantly, they realize that treating stakeholders as partners in policymaking, rather than adversaries, makes their work more effective in the end.
How does the program benefit citizens?
The program prioritizes serving citizens first. For example, several years ago the government passed a law allowing seven municipalities to establish regional landfills to address a critical problem in Montenegro: waste management However, the law was passed by the government without consulting the municipalities that would need to host these landfills. The municipalities proved unable to implement the law and deliver a critical need in these communities, which created very frustrated citizens. After a series of NDI seminars, the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning recently convened a workshop composed of municipal representatives, the Union of Municipalities, as well as stakeholders from the communal services and business community to discuss their frustrations with the current law. The work group created joint amendments to the Law on Waste Management to remedy the situation in addition to proposing changes to the Law on Communal Services. This working group represented a completely new approach of inclusive policy making that was based on the principles introduced at NDI seminars with the ministry.
Also, the Ministry of Finance has improved its communication with ministries during the budget process. As they develop the budget, they are doing a better job of including language that explains how the government plans to spend tax revenue in the coming year and why these expenditures are beneficial. During this process they ask each of the ministries to provide clear explanations of how the budget expenditures of each ministry benefits citizens. This information will also be helpful to the parliament during the budget adoption process and will allow it to be more active on budget oversight.
How is the program structured?
We have had a number of seminars and workshops with our ministry partners to help them with strategic planning, internal management and communication. We also held a session on message development and identity for the ministries. We thought it was important to identify goals and define the mission of the respective ministry. One workshop with the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning focused on developing its agenda for the upcoming year, and how the ministry would engage people throughout the year on the policy issues that it will consider. We also helped this ministry introduce an internal newsletter to communicate how its policy agenda complements its stated goal of sustainable development.
We brought in trainers from Croatia and Serbia to work with members of different ministries on coordinating with civil society. It is constructive for Montenegrins to be able to hear from people from another country about how their government has made them feel more included in the policy making process over time and what they expect of their government. By taking the local politics out of the discussion, true best practice sharing takes place and offers more insight. It allows ministry employees to consider the importance of positive interaction and how their policies can improve by engaging with civil society.
What is the component that is seeking to improve communication between the ministries and parliament?
The ministries want to be able to develop improved briefing packets – small reports that summarize a particular piece of legislation for MPs that sit on the policy and oversight committees. These packets help to inform the parliament, particularly the opposition party, about policy and development issues in an effort to build consensus around what needs to be done. At our final seminar early next year with the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, we will be inviting members of parliament who sit on the environment committee to attend, along with environmental NGOs, to discuss how the ministry can improve and systematize its outreach process.
What is the difference between doing parliamentary assistance, as NDI has done for some time in Montenegro, and working with the ministries?
Some elements have definitely crossed over. Early on, we were working more on basic management, organizational and time management skills needed at a staff level in any branch of government. But I think a ministry is different from a parliament because there is much more of a unified structure that enables a ministry to implement assistance more quickly. Parliaments are designed to be deliberative bodies and you have all the party caucuses and the speaker’s office, where the respective actors are managing different political expectations. A ministry does have political dimensions, but it is much more focused around a set of issues.
What is the long-term impact of a program like this?
In Montenegro, we are fostering skills and developing processes with our partners that can be replicated for any policy issue whether working in policy development, team management, coordination with the parliament, or correspondence with the community. We are also hearing positive feedback from NGOs and citizens that interact with these ministries that they have noticed a more open and cooperative partner than before. Those are some of the examples of the developments and improvements we hope to leave as our legacy.
Looking beyond Montenegro, I think this is an important piece of the whole democracy development process, as decisions are made by the executive branch in parliamentary democracies. Parliament has an important role to play in terms of policy development and oversight, but who is the first person to tackle a policy issue? It is somebody or a group of people in the ministry. Whatever the policy may be and how that policy development starts is crucial in the whole process of democracy. I think this is a natural complement to the work NDI has been doing throughout the world.
Pictured Above: Scott Persons, NDI’s resident director in Montenegro
Published December 1, 2010