Friday, 19 June 2009

Two-Day Public Debate Held - Part of Preparations for Drafting National Assembly Act and New Rules of Procedure

Public debate on topics significant for the drafting of the Bill on the National Assembly and the Proposal of the National Assembly Rules of Procedure was organised on 18 and 19 June 2009, at the National Assembly House.

The meeting was supported by the following international organisations: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe (CE), US Agency for International Development (USAID) – Separation of Powers Program in Serbia (EWMI – SUNY) and National Democratic Institute (NDI).

At the beginning of the meeting the participants were addressed by the National Assembly Speaker, Prof. Dr Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic. She stressed that the work on the Act is very important and truly reformatory and that the public debate organised on the occasion represents a step further in the development of legislative activity and parliamentary democracy.

“In order to be a democratic institution, the National Assembly must ensure adequate representation, be efficient and made answerable for its work, and the organization of this debate aims to give the experts, public and media an opportunity to state their views on the parliament and propose the direction the reforms should take”, the National Assembly Speaker said.

She stated that the debate should focus on the organisation of the assembly and competencies of the assembly bodies and suggested that the introduction of new working bodies, such as commissions, be considered. According to Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic, in its pursuit of parliamentary democracy, the Assembly should search for more efficient and better ways of cooperating with the public, work on establishing trust and integrity of the deputies, modernise the legislative process, control the executive government and enforce laws more efficiently, and properly perform its representative function.

The participants were welcomed by the National Assembly Secretary Veljko Odalovic who stressed that the debate is an introduction into the preparation of a high-quality legal act.

“We do not want you to get the impression that we are passing the act for the benefit of the services and deputies, but rather for the institution which deserves it. Today’s discussion aims to provide guidelines and instructions on how to reach a better legal solution”, Odalovic said adding that the debate should be “a guide to help us pass the act in autumn, and maybe sooner”.

Former Parliament Speakers Dragan Tomic and Slobodan Unkovic took part in the public debate, as well as deputies, representatives of political parties and non-government organizations, professors of the Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences and Law Faculty, representatives of international organisations and media, as well as representatives of the parliaments of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovakia.

The first day was dedicated to a debate on the constitutional and legal status of the National Assembly, the role of the media in the development of parliamentary practice, importance of parliamentary control over executive government and financial and property aspects of the National Assembly’s autonomy.

In the morning part of the debate the participants pointed how important it is to pass an Act on the Assembly so as to strengthen the institution of the parliament and regain its dignity, and also discussed the significance of the media and non-government sector in the process.

Slavisa Orlovic, Docent of the Faculty of Political Sciences, stressed regaining the citizens’ trust in the parliament as a key issue, better cooperation between the parliament and independent regulatory bodies and open cooperation with civil society. He also pointed out the importance of the deputies’ autonomy, because, he explained, without it parliamentarism is pointless.

Dejan Milenkovic (FPS) pointed out the role of the media in realising parliamentary practice, stating that the openness of parliamentary work is not achieved merely through the media, but in other ways as well. He commended the informing via the assembly website and suggested that the gallery in the Great Hall be open to all citizens interested in following the parliament’s work live.

Sonja Liht, president of the Fund for Political Excellence endorsed the idea of introducing a parliamentary channel which should be regulated by the future Act on the Assembly deeming that it would contribute to educate the citizens on the parliament’s role in modern society.

The participants stressed the importance of the media, as well as the non-government sector in raising the parliament’s credibility, they stated that the communication between the citizens and parliament is lacking and that the assembly website should be interactive. They also pointed that assembly committees need to take a more active role in passing laws.

In the afternoon, the participants of the public debate considered the issues of the National Assembly’s competencies and functions in establishing parliamentary control over the executive government and the financial and property aspects of the National Assembly’s autonomy. In the discussion, the financial autonomy was estimated as very important as it is a pre-condition for the parliament’s independence and efficiency. The debate stressed that the Parliament shall be able to efficiently control the Government, reach its goals, be independent, stable and efficient only when it can autonomously dispose of its budget.

The second day of the public debate focused on the status, rights and obligations of the deputies. The majority of participants agreed that the future act should stipulate that deputies can freely dispose of their terms of office. Tanasije Marinkovic, professor of the Law Faculty, pointed out that a deputy needs to be protected, and guaranteed his/her dignity and independence as parliamentary democracy cannot exist without it. He specially focused on the issue of term of office and deputy immunity as the Act on the Assembly must grant the deputies free terms of office, adding that the act should ban the institution of blank resignations.

The last topic discussed by the participants of the public debate dealt with issues concerning the organization of the work of the National Assembly, its working bodies and the National Assembly Support Service. Vladan Petrov, professor of the Law Faculty and Mirjana Radakovic, Assistant Secretary of the National Assembly, talked on these issues.

At the end of the two-day debate, the National Assembly Speaker, Prof. Dr Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic proclaimed the discussion useful and justified adding that it shall be helpful in setting the priorities to be included in the future Act on the Assembly, as well as defining the deputies’ status and competencies.

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