25.10.2013. PASOS, MEP: Reforming judiciary must be priority for open government efforts

PASOS, 25.10.2013.

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Reforming the judicial system should be the top priority of those advocating for more transparent governments, according to a former Romanian Justice Minster who spoke at PASOS’ annual international conference in Brussels October 17.

“If there is a clean and professional judiciary — at least 70 percent of it — then we can clean all the other sectors,” said Monica Macovei, who now represents Romania in the European Parliament.

Macovei, who is widely credited with helping Romania join the EU by successfully leading efforts to reform its justice system, was speaking at “Wider and Closer,” a PASOS think tanks/policymakers conference held in Brussels October 17. She was a panelist at the conference’s session on “Open Government in South-East Europe and Implications for EU Enlargement Prospects.”

Macovei said judicial systems cannot reform themselves on their own and must be pressured to do so from outside forces. “People don’t like to change, they need to be helped to change, to be pushed to change,” she said.

In Romania, laws that required judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, lawmakers and other government officials — a group of nearly 100,000 people — to publicly disclose their assets, income and investments helped clean up the judiciary, Macovei said.

Macovei was joined on the panel by Paul Maassen, Civil Society Co-ordinator of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a group that provides an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Maassen presented information about the organization.

In addition, three experts from PASOS-affiliated organizations working on “Advocacy for Open Government,” an EU-funded PASOS project to encourage governments in the Western Balkans become more transparent, presented reports on the status of the project in their respective countries, and joined an ensuing discussion.

Irina Rizmal, a researcher with the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade, said her organization is working to unite other Serbian civil society groups in an open government coalition in order to publicize open government activities.

“The adoption of the first action plan didn’t receive a lot of media attention and didn’t receive a lot of public debate either,” she said. “We cannot the expect the government to actually promote this. We need to start the initiative first. We need to inform citizens about what OGP is about because they need to realize that this will help them.”

Fisnik Reçica, a senior researcher with the Riinvest Institute for Development Research in Kosovo, reported on various initiatives between civil society and the Kosovar government to begin adopting open government principles.

Marija Vuksanović, a project manager with the Centre For Democracy and Human Rights in Montenegro, said that while some progress had been made in pressuring the Montenegrin government to become more open, much work remains.

“The cooperation and the participation of CSOs in policymaking and decision-making processes has been also advanced. Now you have NGOs involved in almost all laws and draft laws and strategies proposed by the government,” she said. “However, if you are proposing as a CSO or advocating for something that is actually directly colliding with certain political interests of the government, then you will see that kind of participation is rather a formal one than a substantial one. That is an area we need to work on.”

A video of the full panel session is also available.