Approximately, that's how much the current term of the Municipal Assembly of Gacko has cost the residents of this municipality in terms of councillors’ allowances and salaries over a period of six months. During that time, they have only had one working session, while ceremonially, which means at the ceremonial session to distribute awards to the deserving, they have gathered once again. Mayor Ognjen Milinković says that Gacko is not an exception in this regard and expects a session to be held soon.
It was clear to everyone that the majority in the Gacko Municipal Assembly was unstable when, during the session, a majority of the items were not adopted, including the proposal for budget rebalancing. This put Mayor Ognjen Milinković in a delicate position as some budget positions had been significantly exceeded.
However, the balance was restored on March 4th, during the first session of the year, when the municipal budget was adopted. It was mentioned at that time that the stability of the majority was influenced by a higher power embodied in the President of the SNSD, but, of course, it remained at the level of assumption.
Legal Procedure Takes Precedence
What is a fact is that the councillors did not convene after that to address specific matters important for the life of the municipality. They briefly gathered at the end of May for a ceremonial session to decide on the recipients of the municipal awards for this year.
Since then, they have not come together, although at least three regular sessions were supposed to be held in the past six months.
The mayor of the municipality, Ognjen Milinković, claims that due to the absence of council sessions, he did not have to take any actions outside the law. He stated categorically, “We had to adhere to certain conditions that were created. Of course, legal procedure is a priority”. However, he also acknowledged that this kind of paralysis in the council's work “relatively” affects life in the municipality.
“Relatively, it does have an impact, of course, in terms of making certain decisions. For now, it's a state of status quo”, said the mayor of Gacko in an interview with “Direkt”, adding that a session of the Assembly can be expected soon.
When asked if the reason for the inactivity of the local parliament is the unreliability of the majority, he stated that the political situation is complex but expressed optimism.
“In essence, maybe the majority (in the assembly) is not the problem. We will see in the coming period. As you know, we have cases in neighbouring municipalities where there was no assembly for six months. I expect a session to be held here soon”, Milinković claims.
Ognjen Milinković, the mayor of Gacko
Numerous Irregularities and Violations of the Law
According to Vukota Govedarica, a former councillor in the Municipal Assembly of Gacko and a current member of the National Assembly of Republika Srpska, there are many reasons to file misdemeanour and criminal charges against the mayor of the municipality.
He emphasizes that there is no doubt that there is a political crisis in Gacko's local parliament caused by the councillors belonging to the current majority, which has been evident since the beginning of their mandate.
“The law stipulates that sessions must be held at least once every 60 days. However, we can see that the law is not being followed. Unfortunately, there is no penalty prescribed for such violations. It is not good that the parliament is not doing its job. The fortunate thing is that this parliament adopted the budget for this year. However, it is not good that other decisions are not being adopted.
Last year, there was a crisis, and the local assembly did not adopt the budget revision. This means that the mayor violated the Law on Budget System. He should not have spent more funds than what was approved in the budget. However, he spent them counting on the revision to fix the unplanned expenses“, explains Govedarica.
Member of Parliament Vukota Govedarica
Six Salaries for One Day of Work
Councilor Radoica Antunović considers the situation unacceptable both morally and legally. He holds the current parliamentary leadership responsible for the current situation, and the mayor should have addressed this issue publicly.
“The parliamentary leadership – the president, secretary, and majority members are solely responsible for the fact that no session has been scheduled so far. They should have scheduled a session, even at the cost of not adopting certain items. I don't know how ethical it is for people to receive six salaries for one day of work this year. That doesn't happen anywhere else in the world.
The mayor's responsibility lies in not publicly speaking up and stating whether he has prepared the materials for the session and sent them for parliamentary procedures. If he has, he should have publicly stated that everything is prepared and expressed his confusion as to why the assembly is not convening and adopting the materials. It is not normal to have only one session in six months when there should have been, for example, four or five. We are entering the summer period where there probably won't be any sessions, and we are entering the pre-election campaign in October, so I wonder if we will have more than one session this year“, expresses this opposition councillor.
He notes that a collegium, which precedes every session, was scheduled last week but was later cancelled without explanation. Unofficially, it was heard that a collegium of the majority members was supposed to take place before that, but it did not occur either.
Budget Execution – a Thorn in the Mayor's Side
In the meantime, much has been missed. Antunović says that two points were particularly interesting to him – the report on budget execution for the previous year and the report on the mayor's work.
“Since there was no budget revision, from the report on budget execution, we will see how the budget was planned and how it was spent. It will clearly show how much money was spent beyond the plan. There are other points of importance for the daily lives of our fellow citizens“.
Antunović reminds that they should have already proceeded with a budget revision, but in a downward direction, as the decline in indirect tax revenue will certainly be around 15-20% less than planned.
“So that is also one of the things they had to prepare“, says Antunović.
Vukota Govedarica also believes that there have been irregularities and that those responsible in the Gacko municipality, primarily Mayor Milinković, will face consequences. The work of the local government in the previous year is currently being reviewed by the Public Sector Audit Office.
“In a responsible system, the budget inspection of the Ministry of Finance would have long been present in the Gacko municipality, conducting its oversight with absolute authority to file both administrative and criminal charges against the mayor, or the finance officer whom we do not have. Well, yet another quirk in how the system functions here“, he believes.
Govedarica says that he is not aware of any other municipality that lacks a finance officer.
“When the Audit Office produces its report, we will have an overview of what really happened in the previous year. There was no budget revision, the budget committee did not come and will not come, as it obviously follows the political line. The Budget Law has been violated, which entails administrative and criminal charges. What is certainly obligatory this year is the report on budget execution for 2022. In this environment, it certainly will not be adopted, and that will lead to the aforementioned charges becoming highly substantiated”, explains Govedarica.
However, it seems that Mayor Milinković is not concerned about it. He claims that everything has been done according to the law and dismisses any thought of having violated it.
“Of course, the first priority is to comply with the legal procedure, and that's what we adhere to“, Milinković categorically states.