Todays Date
December 7, 2021

Idzet Memeti, Ombudsman: Courts lose cases, enforcement agents charge illegally, there is crime in prisons

Last year the Ombudsman received a total of 1,174 petitions and complaints from citizens. Of these, 1,054 were completed and 931 were accepted by institutions under review. However, the Ombudsman Idzet Memeti publicly criticizes the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Interior. In an interview for Inbox 7 he openly talks about the mistakes made by institutions and human rights violations

Mr. Memeti, you expressed serious concern and have once again mentioned the word – again, in connection with the work of judicial authorities?


Memeti: I agree that reforms in that system go slow. I also agree that it is not easy to reform the system because it is very complex. The question is why? The answer is everything a bit. It is very difficult to establish judicial authority in a society such as Macedonia where there are many differences. Because the judiciary should be the backbone of society. If the legislature brings regulations, the court is here to carry them out. It is the guarantor of fairness and justice. If citizens do not trust it or there are procedures that give the impression that they are not impartial, or influenced, then here is the end of that which means high trust in the government.


When you say that citizens must feel that justice applies to everyone, do you refer to the case “Monster”? You received complaints from families of two detainees, didn’t you?


Memeti: Not only in the case “Monster”. Citizens have uncertainty, opinion or perception. In this case they are divided into two camps, on ethnic base, Albanians and Macedonians. Ones suspect that offenders were Albanians, on the other hand, as they are of a different ethnicity in the justice system, they seem to cheer. I want to say that these procedures should be run very carefully. And not only these. When a citizen gets the verdict, he should only think of one thing. That it is fair. For “Monster” we ran a procedure only for two of the detainees who served their detention in the Bitola prison. That they were tortured from the moment they entered the detention unit in the prison. The investigation showed that there had been elements of torture on them by prison guards and criminal charges were filed to prosecutors in Bitola, which were accepted but later turned down by the investigating judge.


In the presentation of your report you said that if institutions do not do something, then not only violations of human rights will not be reduced but will increase. You specifically mentioned prisons. What happens there?


Memeti: That system is very weak. But even like that, weak, it is worse when it does not work. Starting from very poor accommodation conditions, to mistreatment. We have cases where we see very bad conditions, we send a recommendation, find a terrible system that does not allow resocialization but does the opposite. I once said that prisons in Macedonia turn into a place where crime sprouts. Instead of resocializing prisoners, we contribute to become criminals. The conditions in the Correctional Home in Tetovo are horribly bad. I do not know whether courts think where they send children. There they are placed in very poor conditions, there is no treatment, many bad things happen in terms of treatment, on the other hand only the management knows. We have come across cases when the administration knows, but hides and finds connections so as the Ombudsman does not carry out certain actions. As long as the prisons are run by unskilled people, as long as prison conditions do not improve, we will have a terrible system.


You seriously criticized the work of administrative courts and communication of courts with administrative bodies. You said that if it does not improve, the consequences for the citizens will be enormous. What exactly did you mean? 


Memeti: We have administrative judiciary only on paper, and realistically things are very different. There are cases when there is a possibility a citizen to protect his right. The way of communication between administrative courts and administrative bodies is so bad that believe me, we torture citizens. It should be invested in administrative judiciary more seriously regarding the new legislative changes to make the system more consistent and better in terms of improving the conditions of justice. We have had complaints, we have conducted a procedure in which we concluded that the body had not informed that the case had been lost. We have had a case, I ran it, in a court in Macedonia where it was lost. They do not think in terms of that at all. Even if it is like that, the law provides an opportunity to update the records and resolve the dispute. The problem that remains is that the systems really have problems that need to upgrade in order such things not to happen.


For the first time this year the work of enforcement agents was in the report. You have received complaints that they charge illegally. What is your opinion?


Memeti: The system of enforcement is not only the enforcement agent. It is a cycle that must function. If there is a specific request from a citizen which should be carried out by the enforcement agent, he would do it through a bank. We have cases where enforcement agents recognize that the ombudsman is right. And they say that they must not deal with incomes that provide citizens’ existence, on the other hand banks block the entire amount. When we address the banks they say that they are not interested in it. As if they were out of this system. They say they do not have such software. As if that was not their job? The question is who is to blame? Who needs to think about the software of a private bank? Citizens? No. The bank is the one that should do it. As the law of enforcement, where there is limitation of the possibility of enforcement, or taking a part of the citizens’ income, also applies to banks. There are cases in which, it is my opinion, enforcement agents running after the profits reach what they should and what they should not. What is illegal and what they must not perform.


In this year’s report you have mentioned violation of workers’ rights, mobbing and abuse of consumer rights. Who abuses Macedonian citizens?


Memeti: You pass from one system to another unprepared. Here for example in terms of utility. We have had such cases where a certain public utility conditions citizens. For example, you cannot get a certain right if you do not pay a bill and so on. Another worrying phenomenon among consumers is the broadcasting fee. No one can be against the fact that it should be paid. Some time ago we moved to another payment system and a new register of debtors or beneficiaries of such services was supposed to have been established. But the way the register began to be prepared was disastrous. There is poor communication between the Public Revenue Office (PRO) andthe Macedonian Radio and Television (MRTV), so citizens get two or three decisions for one person or to all members of a family. On the other hand, there are decisions where the citizen has no house. He has a certain property and we see that it is actually a field. It is a frivolous thing. We have entered the system unprepared. Citizens are not to blame. Citizens are not the ones who need to implement the new system. But it should be done by PRO, other bodies and MRTV, which should develop a quality system of borrowers.


You openly admitted that you have trouble communicating with state institutions acting on cases you work on. You specifically mentioned that certain institutions hamper your work. Which are these institutions? 


Memeti: I think the issue here is that the society is understood differently. That in this society not all authorities under the Constitution should work. However, I think in this way, such behavior harms the citizens and the society. Institutions are to respect each other, communicate with each other for citizens’ good. Institutions are for them, not those who manage them. I publicly criticized the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Interior, Department of Foreigners in particular. It is a sector that has been impeding the work of the Ombudsman for five years.


The number of cases that you work on is increasing and government institutions have taken them into account. But there are no results. Have you thought about another increase of your powers after the one in 2009 when you were given a certificate to be a National Preventive Mechanism?


Memeti: The Ombudsman has a certificate of category B which means that he has no A certificate yet because he does not meet certain conditions, namely the Paris Principles regarding many things. Even on the possibility of conducting investigations. The law has to be amended so that the Ombudsman gets an A certificate and become a national institution for the protection of human rights. The text of the amendments is ready, but I have received information that the proposer of the law believes that some of the authorities should be reduced, not increased. It can certainly be done, but it means that the status A can in no case be gotten. If someone asks the Ombudsman to conduct prevention of torture in accordance with the Optional Protocol, without means to detect the situation and the risks, he cannot perform that function. If the Ombudsman enters the prison and there is no temperature or moisture gauge, then he cannot perform the function, if there is no camera to picture? And some want us to perform the function without it. Then, either they do not know, what I suspect, or know, but pretend not to know. It is wrong and it certainly should not be happening.