Croatia: Constitutional Court cuts wings off prevention of conflict of interest committee

Making head ways in fight against corruption Croatia will soon get its Committee for the prevention of conflict of interest. Such Committee will, for the first time ever, be an independent body as opposed to the one where it’s a parliamentary committee, comprised of members of parliament.

The Croatian Constitutional Court has November 7 brought down an Order abolishing some articles from the Prevention of Conflict of Interest Act. The abolished articles relate to powers under the Act that the members of the Committee on Prevention of Conflict of Interest, appointed by the Parliament, had and under which powers the members had full access to bank accounts held by all public officials.  I.e. the abolished articles relate to those provisions that existed for the verification via banks and taxation office of asset declarations made by public officials as part of their job requirements. The Constitutional court has also ordered the Croatian Parliament to elect the president and members of the Committee on Conflict of Interest by 15 February 2013, at the latest.

This decision goes beyond all international legal responsibilities of the Republic of Croatia. The 2005 UN convention against corruption provides for state intervention in the institution of bank secrets only when there’s a case for investigation of criminal cases and in cases of permanent divestiture of material gain on basis of court order”, said judge Mario Jelusic.

It’s essential”, judge Jelusic added, “to deliver a determination of the concept of conflict of interest, as it had often been wrongly understood in the past 20 years. There’s a need that we explain the meaning of that institution and, once and for all, separate it from the criminal sphere or from any kind of incriminating behaviour”.

Jasna Omejec, president of Croatian Constitutional court, said at the Bench that “the institution of conflict of interest, from the very beginning when people started to talk about it in Croatia, was wrongly understood, and that one gets the impression that with it one automatically associated something that’s a priori corrupt, something that labeled a person found in conflict of interest as a person who had committed a criminal act or at least as a person that’s dishonest, immoral and corrupt”.

The justice minister, Drazen Bosnjakovic, of former HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) led government commented that, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, public officials were obligated to release a statement by which they permit the Commission on conflict of interest to inspect their bank accounts, and now the Constitutional court had abolished that possibility. He considers that the Constitutional court had abolished important provisions of the Act, and that if the Committee for prevention of conflict of interest cannot verify the details contained in a public official’s asset declaration, then a public official can write anything into it, and the Committee is, because of the changes in the Act, unable to perform its function.

Given the widespread corruption (much of which was embedded in conflicts of interests among public officials and company directors etc.) that plagued Croatia for decades, from times of former Yugoslavia, the comments made by the Constitutional court judges leave a sour taste. It’s difficult to avoid feeling disappointed with their comments especially when, reading between the lines, one gets the sense of “forgiveness” to those who had trodden along the road of conflict of interest in order to reach the goal of enormous personal gains through corruption.

The judge’s words are almost like saying: You poor devil, it’s O.K., you didn’t know what you were doing.

One smells a cover up, or at least a helping hand by the Constitutional court for those who find themselves in courts, charged with corruption; they now seem to have an “I didn’t know” defense (excuse) blessed by the court. Well, in civilized and democratic countries not knowing the law does not excuse one from being successfully prosecuted for breaching it. Ultimately, it’s every citizens own responsibility to know the law.

Even if the words “conflict of interest” may have been foreign to Croatia (or Yugoslavia) the concept of it, the wrongfulness of disregarding it, was in no way foreign. Those who set themselves up in positions of power, nepotism, bribes, privatisation of companies – on the cheap – to immediate and wider family members…all knew very well they were doing wrong, they were selfish and greedy at the expense of the people and national wealth.

They knew they were dishonest, immoral and corrupt and if they were labeled as such, the label was absolutely deserved, despite the fact that what the Constitutional court judges said might lead one to doubt the righteousness of such labels.

One good thing though is that this change in the Prevention of Conflict of Interest Act will (must) lead to watertight and transparent controls, policies, procedures and regulations in managing and preventing conflict of interest not only among public officials but for public company directors and management, for professionals, for non-government organisations etc. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. I get the impression that the lawmakers to law enforcers, from the Constitutional Court on down, think that they are cleverly satisfying Bruxelles with respect to Chapter 23 of our accession agreement, and at the same time protecting those who have raped our country for their personal gains.

    I hope That Bruxelles won’t be so myopic that they let them get away with this, and if they do, then I have to wonder about the involvement of corruption in the accession process itself.

    • I expect there’ll be some eyebrows raised in Brussels, and some decisive corrective action or rejection of such bits of Chapter 23. Anti-corruption is high on EU agenda and to say people didn’t understand what conflict of interest was when they entered into it corruptly is absolutely deplorable.

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