On 23 October 2017, on the occasion of holding of the round table on the topic of the protection of whistleblowers in Serbia, the Judicial Academy in Belgrade was visited by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary, Mr. Hoyt Brian Yee.
In addition to Mr. Yee, the round table was attended, in the role of the host, by the Director of the Judicial Academy, Mr. Nenad Vujić, Mrs. Snežana Andrejević, a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Cassation, three deputies of the Republic Public Prosecutor, Mr. Branko Stamenković, Mrs. Zorica Stojšić, and Mrs. Jasmina Ganić-Milovanović, Mr. Vladimir Radomirović, the managing editor-in-chief of the portal Pištaljka (Whistle), Mr. Zoran Pandurov, a whistleblower from Novi Sad, Messrs. Bogdan Turudija and Predrag Martinović from the association Alterfact as well as by the officers of the US Embassy in Belgrade, Mr. Theodore Fisher, the Control Officer, Mr. Jeff Skarin, the Democracy and Governance Officer USAID/Serbia, and by Mr. Walter Perkel, the Anti-corruption Resident Legal Adviser, the US Department of Justice (the DoJ), the Office for Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (the OPDAT).
The Director of the Judicial Academy, Mr. Nenad Vujić, informed the US Embassy delegation, headed by Mr. Hoyt Brian Yee, about the operation of the Judicial Academy thanking for the so far support to the strengthening of its capacities. Mr. Vujić pointed out not only the financial support by the USAID but also the support by the experts from the USA having mentioned the significant contribution of the expert Mr. Tom Devine who has helped a lot related to the protection of whistleblowers in Serbia in the past 3 years as well as of the experts from their country related to financial investigations. The Director of the Judicial Academy added that the Judicial Academy organizes specialized education of judges and prosecutors who deal with the cases of whistleblowers and that this training is mandatory. „Our judges, within those training courses, have the opportunity to be informed about what NGOs face up in the cases of whistleblowers“ said Mr. Vujić. The training in whistleblower matters is also provided within the initial training, which is attended by future judges and there is also the programme for financial investigations. Mr. Vujić, commenting the constitutional amendments in Serbia, pointed out that, as the precondition for the development and reform of the judiciary, there are the three pillars indispensable for the implementation of the same: independence of judges and their competence, ethics, and integrity and efficiency, and that the Judicial Academy incorporates the three goals in its role. „It is not possible to talk about the independence of the judiciary without knowledge, integrity, and efficiency“, emphasized Mr. Vujić, who informed those present that discussions are under way about the role of the Judicial Academy in the constitutional amendments.
The retired judge of the Supreme Court of Cassation, Mrs. Snežana Andrejević, thanked the USAID for the so far assistance and said that the valid Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers is a good basis in principle but that it is necessary to work on further education of judges and to study international standards in this area. Mrs. Andrejević informed the US delegation that there are education programmes implemented by the Judicial Academy, where she is one of the distinguished lecturers, after which the trainees are awarded the licence with which they may deal with whistleblower cases. She added that quite a lot of judges have passed the first degree of the training covering whistleblowers and that it is now the time for further improvement. Judge Andrejević underlined that the relationship between the civil sector and the judiciary which protect whistleblowers is very important. „The role of the prosecutor’s offices is priceless because citizens – whistleblowers address them first“, added Mrs. Andrejević and pointed to the fact that the norm is not all that is required and that a lot also matters in the application of the Law on Whistleblowers, which is quite good, but that it is necessary to extend the training courses in this area to cover the prosecutor’s offices because it can contribute to the elimination of irregularities and that the resolution of the issues of whistleblowers is referred back to the institutions instead of being the topic of tabloids, concluded Mrs. Andrejević having said that she is continuing her career as an educator in the Judicial Academy.
Mr. Bogdan Turudija from the Alterfact Association first thanked the USAID for the support to the reforms in the judiciary in generall and said that now the battle headed by whistleblowers, owing to the good Law, is waged at the institutional level, education programmes for judges are organized and there is the progress in this respect. The problem is bigger at the level of the nation and cultural patterns related to corruption because, as Mr. Turudija pointed out, in Serbia, there is a delicate line between the cultural habit of standing treats to doctors in token of gratitude in the form of a present or money when someone’s child is born - and corruption. Mr. Turudija stressed that, since a whistleblower is most often an ordinary citizen who is not knowledable about legislative provisions, etc., it is necessary to improve visibility of the corruption cases and to point to them and launch campaigns of raising awareness of citizens, ordinary people related to corruption because it has become a way of life in Serbia – modus operandi of sorts. „It is necessary to work more on raising of awareness of ordinary citizens related to corruption and on institutional changes in terms of the work on pending cases of whistleblowers and that is a process“, concluded Mr. Turudija.
Mr. Vladimir Radomirović, the managing editor-in-chief of the portal of the NGO Pištaljka (Whistle), informed the participants of the round table about the role and activities of the portal pištaljka.rs he is the editor of.
Mr. Branko Stamenković, the Deputy Republic Public Prosecutor, informed those present that the activities of whistleblowers have been recognized and that the Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers is aplied. Among other things he emphasized that the cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior (the MoI) is very important because the investigation in the cases of whistleblowers is in the legal jurisdiction of prosecutors. „The MoI and the judiciary must cooperate“, underlined Mr. Stamenković adding that, at a public debate, there will be discussions about new constitutional amendments and that one should be cautious there, reminding of the constitutional amendments in 2009 and 2010, which, as Mr. Stamenković put it, „still reverberate”.
Mr. Zoran Pandurov, a whistleblower from Novi Sad, pointed to the fact that more than two years have passed since the adoption of the Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers and that, time-wise, his colleague Marija Beretka, on 5 June 2015, became the first whistleblower whose activation as a whistleblower was not based only on talk but on material evidence. In the cases of Mr. Zoran Pandurov and Ms. Marija Beretka, the court concluded that their reports as whistleblowers had been justified and the proceedings are under way. Mr. Pandurov familiarized the participants of the round table about his judicial orientation way back since the secondary school days and about his professional commitment to work, in line with his strong moral principles and dedication to serve his state, at various positions in various institutions and in different cities in Serbia, in a honorable manner, which enables him to have peace of mind. Mr. Pandurov also said that Serbia, related to the protection of whistleblowers, enacted a proper quality law and that it is a major step forward in the application of law in Serbia, but that this Law could undergo some minor amendments. He also added that a crisis in the implementation of the rule of law is present, and said that that the crisis is long lasting and that there are various reasons for it. The theme of the protection of whistleblowers is going in the right direction owing to, in Mr. Pandurov’s view, two pillars: the good law and the portal pištaljka.rs, which has a particularly important advisory role for whistleblowers. „The problem is not in the Law but in the application of the Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers“, concluded Mr. Pandurov.
The US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Mr. Hoyt Brian Yee, said that the USA and Serbia are not only partners but friendly countries as well and that the initiated cooperation on the reform of the judiciary will continue. Mr. Yee emphasized that the USA understand how important the activities related to whistleblowers and the activity of the Judicial Academy are and how much courage is needed by whistleblowers as well as by all those who wish to contribute to the changes and reforms in Serbia.