OCCRP Supports Transparency in Montenegro

Published: 26 September 2013


In July 2012, MANS (Network for Affirmation of  NGO Sector) asked for records from Montenegro’s business registry on behalf of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).  It took more than one year to get a response, and when it came, it simply said that the files were no longer available in the registry.

That same month, MANS made another request on behalf of OCCRP - this time to the land registry of Montenegro. Despite a court ruling ordering the registry to release land records, which considered public records in most democratic countries and available to anyone upon request, the land registry still refuses.

Both sets of records are important. They list who is doing business, who is winning tenders, and who is buying state property.  It can also show the extent of the Montenegrin government’s ties to international drug traffickers, the looting of the nation’s resources to benefit a few people, and the deeply engrained corruption that extends to every corner of Montenegro.  The government does not want  people to see public records and learn these truths.

This was not the first time MANS or reporters in Montenegro were not allowed access to business or land records.  The government’s flagrant disregard for its own laws is well documented and works directly against Montenegro’s European Union aspirations. Now the government wants to make matters worse by taking more records offline.

Recently, it took the JMBG number out of online databases. In most countries of the former Yugoslavia, the JMBG is a unique personal identification number that can be used to see who owns a company or property. Without JMBG numbers, the records are nearly useless. This is contrary to the very concept of public records – that the public be allowed to know how its government works and with whom it is working.

In a country where police and prosecutors are doing little to prosecute high-level corruption and organized crime, journalists and civil society actors are among the few deterrents to such crimes. If transparency continues to be curtailed, Montenegro will continue its slide towards becoming a crime state. It will also face more challenges to being accepted in the EU.  Much of the gutting of transparency has been attributed to meeting EU standards for privacy. This is not true.

If people seek to interact with government and use public resources, the public has a right to know who they are. They give up their right to privacy when they bid for tenders, buy land, or drive a car on public roads.

The United Kingdom, Cyprus, France and other countries publish a person’s date of birth, registered address and nationality -- information sufficient to establish someone’s true identity.

For these reasons OCCRP requests that JMBG number be included in Montenegro’s databases, and that the government  of Montenegro accepts its responsibilities to govern fairly and in a transparent manner.