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The Government illegally appointed acting officials, and the court has not been resolving the lawsuit for declaration of nullity

More than three-quarters of the decisions of the Government of Serbia in 2020 on the appointment of acting officials in the state administration were illegal. In 30% of cases, the Government violated not only the Law on Civil Servants provisions but also the laws of physics, determining that officials would take office on a day that had already passed at that time, the prEUgovor coalition analysis shows.

This gross violation of the Law could be stopped if the Administrative Court declares the illegal decisions null and void. On June 21 last year, the Republic's Public Prosecutor's Office accepted the arguments from the Transparency Serbia initiative and filed a lawsuit to declare the decision null and void, which violated the Law most drastically. However, the Administrative Court has not yet decided and refuses to provide information on whether the Government of Serbia responded to the lawsuit and what arguments it used to defend its illegal actions. The lawsuit was filed in the case when the Government, at the session held on April 15, 2021, appointed Filip Radović to the position of Acting Director of the Environmental Protection Agency for three months, starting on October 9, 2020. During that period, in November 2020, whistleblower Milenko Jovanović was dismissed from the post of head of air quality issues at the Environmental Protection Agency. By the time Radović was dismissed in November 2021, the Government had passed 23 illegal decisions on his appointment as acting president.

In less than two years of work, ending with September 1, 2022 session, the outgoing Government passed as many as 1,258 decisions on the appointment of acting officials in the state administration, which refer to 290 persons. Of these, 230 were appointed between two and eight times consecutively for a period of three months, although the Law allows it only once. On this basis alone, 972 decisions (77%) were illegal, meaning that appointed persons managed state administration bodies without grounds for 2916 months. In addition, in 369 cases, the Government made decisions retroactively, setting the date of commencement of duties a day that had already passed. On average, the Government sent these officials back in time for 13 days, and in the most extreme case, even 188.

According to the data provided by the Human Resources Management Service, there are currently 408 positions, of which only 41% (167) have been filled through a competition. The rest of the posts (185) are occupied by acting officials, the vast majority of whom were appointed illegally or are kept as "unfilled" (56) because the mandate of the acting officials has expired and is waiting for the Government to retroactively "validate" it. The legal obligation to professionalise state administration has already existed for seventeen years, and the Government has additionally committed to it within the Action Plan for Chapter 23 of the accession negotiations with the European Union.

Although many held competitions, the political decision of the Government to appoint one of the three best candidates for five years was absent. Instead, most positions are filled by easily replaceable acting officers appointed for three months. Previously, the 'acting situation' was justified by various implausible excuses, and nowadays, politicians are no longer afraid even to say publicly that the reason for such behaviour is the desire to keep these officials under control.

Solving this major problem is one of the issues on which the new Government of Serbia will first be able to show whether it will be ready to re-establish at least essential legal certainty. Then it can start the path of true professionalisation and depoliticisation of the state administration. Establishing a legal situation would undoubtedly be helped by greater transparency - publication and updating the list of filled and unfilled positions, acting officials, competitions and their outcomes. These data are currently only available by request for access to information or by searching zipped decisions from each session of the Government of Serbia.