Interview | Ljupco Kotsevski, Republic Public Prosecutor: Trust in the Public Prosecutor's Office will be restored with transparency and accountability

Prosecutor Ljupco Kocevski / photo: Sloboden Pechat/Slobodan Djuric

Transparency will encourage the accountability of public prosecutors in the performance of their work, and once there is accountability, every prosecutor will be efficient and effective. He will try his best to succeed in the matter, to observe the legal deadlines, to take certain actions, because he will have to appear before the citizens and say what he has done for a certain period, says the state prosecutor Kocevski in his first interview after the election

 

The newly elected Public Prosecutor of the Republic of North Macedonia Ljupco Kocevski believes that the trust of the citizens in the Public Prosecutor's Office will increase with the transparency and accountability of the public prosecutors who will be in charge of regularly informing about what they are doing. According to him, the efficiency and effectiveness of OJ will increase when the institution receives the budget that it is legally entitled to, for which pressure will be exerted on the government. Prosecutor Kocevski does not expect help from politicians in building a strong and independent Prosecutor's Office, but he asks them to respect the laws on the financing of judicial bodies.

Prosecutor Kocevski, are you aware that you have the most powerful position - the chief state prosecutor and how you will use it in order to restore the confidence of the citizens in the Public Prosecutor's Office, which is now low, to eradicate high corruption, which is the biggest problem in society and to achieve independence?

- Of course I am aware of that, the position for which I applied myself is a personal challenge for which I think I am professionally prepared. I have a program in which all these that you list are listed as priority areas and I immediately started with some of the activities. The key is in ensuring the independence of public prosecutors in their actions, in their accountability and responsibility. In order to achieve that, transparency is necessary, both institutional and individual from each public prosecutor. I will do my best for that. When it comes to corruption, it is a fact that it can never be completely eradicated, not only here, but anywhere, even in the most developed countries, but I will advocate for the fight against corruption to be more effective and more visible to the citizens.

How did you find the Public Prosecutor's Office at the beginning of your term, and how do you want to leave it after six years? What are the biggest problems and challenges?

- Both before me and after my mandate, JO is and will be a stable organization with really excellent professionals. I will try my best to present that image to the general public and improve working conditions internally. Honestly, we are facing many problems and challenges. I would mention insufficient material and personnel resources as priorities. Every year, the prosecutor's office receives less than half of the budget it is legally entitled to, which is objectively insufficient. The law provides funds of at least 0,4 percent of the state budget for the current year, and they barely give us 0,2. Not to mention, as an institution, we are literally barely surviving with this budget, let alone talking about modernizing and improving the situation. We need funds and equipment for digitization. It is important for the independence of OJ to be financially independent in the disposal of budget funds and not to depend on the assessment of the Ministry of Finance. I would like this issue to be resolved by the end of my six-year term.

JO is continuously faced with an outflow of personnel and we are in a big deficit with personnel resources. We currently lack 88 public prosecutors. In the public prosecutor's service, 371 jobs out of a total of 1.126 have been filled, which is less than 40 percent filled. 197 managing public prosecutor officers are planned, and only nine have been filled! We need staffing. These numbers are further reduced, and the workload is increasing. We have prosecution offices with only one or no prosecutor, that is not sustainable.

Prosecutor Ljupco Kocevski/photo Sloboden Pechat/Slobodan Djuric

How will you get the government to finally start paying JO the budget funds that belong to him by law, instead of half, as it has been paying for years and in addition, allow you independent management of the money?

- Personally, I cannot force the government to do anything. I will try, through increased transparency, to raise awareness of the current conditions we are facing, of the necessity of providing adequate conditions and means of work. I believe that the pressure on the authorities will come from the entire public, whose interest is certainly the flawless functioning of the Prosecutor's Office. If we want results and efficiency in the fight against crime and corruption, we need the minimum financial resources that are due to us by law.

Isn't that one of the ways of the executive power to keep the Prosecutor's Office "on a tight leash"? Doesn't the government really need a strong Prosecutor's Office with enough money, equipment, investigative centers, etc., that is, truly independent?

- If we want results, we need at least the minimum legal means that are due to us by law. And not as simple excuses that there is no money have been used so far. That is why we will now advocate with transparency, with the help of the public, with letters, we will complain, we will exert pressure. You have to apply pressure because this is how it sits in place.

And then they accuse you of being an ineffective authority.

- Yes, and no investigative center can respond to the tasks without modern equipment, without funds for undertaking investigative actions. For the equipment, we now mainly rely on foreign donations. The public prosecutor's office for prosecuting organized crime and corruption and the prosecutor's offices in Skopje, Tetovo and Kumanovo have investigative centers and investigators, but the other prosecutor's offices do not. The equipment for the investigation centers so far comes mainly from donations! Justice is an investment for the entire state, and cutting the resources of the Prosecutor's Office is cutting the quality of justice.

And it follows that he who cuts the means, wants to cut justice.

- Maybe that is a logical conclusion.

And the parties, when they are in opposition, criticize you for various weaknesses, and when they are in power, they do not help to overcome them, but use them for their own political goals. Is it clear to the prosecutors that they cannot expect help from the political parties in building a strong and independent prosecutor's office, but that they will have to fight for it themselves?

- No prosecutor expects such help. As an institution, we are absolutely ready to defend our independence and independence, and I believe we will minimize the abuses of the work of the Public Prosecutor's Office for political purposes. From the political actors, we will only demand consistent compliance with the laws, especially in relation to the budget funds guaranteed by the law.

My resume guarantees efficiency

The State Public Prosecutor is elected by the Assembly on the proposal of the Government, which chooses from the candidates who received positive marks in the competition from the Council of Public Prosecutors. You were the only candidate with positive grades. Do you think that what the Government, and not the opposition, is proposing to you somehow makes you a debtor to the government?

- Often the government includes us in the drafting of legal solutions and we participate in various commissions, but in the end the law is passed by the Parliament. The Law on Public Prosecutor's Office is an organizational law, and the procedure for selecting and appointing a public prosecutor is the same. In the last 30 years, until now, the public prosecutor has not submitted a program to the deputies to see what will work. I have a resume for this promotion. It may not be believable, but in my opinion about the period when I was working at the Higher Public Prosecutor's Office in Gostivar, it says that I worked on all the cases every month. Whether it was 20 or 40, in addition to additional activities, I completed all subjects every month for more than 13 years in Gostivar. I was a member of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Judges and Public Prosecutors, for two terms I was a member of the committee for passing the final exam in the Academy, for three terms I was a member of the Board of the Association of Prosecutors, and for six months I worked for the Stip Public Prosecutor's Office. In the Public Prosecutor's Office, I lead the most sensitive, the most confidential and the most complex department, which is the Communications and Metadata Monitoring Department, which is a very difficult and responsible job. I was elected as a member and then as the president of the disciplinary commission by the collegium of the Judiciary, and now I am again a member of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Judges and Prosecutors.

With this experience, can you promise non-selectivity in prosecution, action on all reports despite the strong push from politics? How will you change the impression of the public, which should have confidence in JO?

– Transparency is the most important to increase trust in OJ. It will encourage the accountability of public prosecutors in the performance of their work, and of course, as soon as there is accountability, every prosecutor will be efficient and effective. He will try his best to succeed in the case, to observe the legal deadlines, to take certain actions, because he will have to appear in front of the citizens and say what he has done for a certain period. I held a collegium with all the prosecutors in the state, with the chiefs, with the senior and republican prosecutors, I told them the parts of my program, I shared it with them so that they would be up to date. I can promise that public prosecutors will be as transparent as possible. In addition to the announcements that JO has daily on the website, the prosecutors will also have to give statements about the cases, of course what can be said according to the stage of the procedure the case is in. With that, the public will know that OJ is open and works responsibly, and the quality will also increase. Transparency, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness are related vessels. It will simply be a shame for the public prosecutor to say that he did nothing for a certain case. With that will come the culture of integrity of the public prosecutor, he acquires integrity both for himself and in front of the public.

Preliminary investigation on the issuance of personal documents

What is the position of JO regarding the catastrophic situation with the issuance of personal documents, is there a basis for criminal prosecution of responsible persons in the Ministry of the Interior?

- OJ has established a case in which three criminal charges related to the issuance of personal documents have been merged, one of which was submitted a little earlier by a citizen, and the other two are from a few days ago, by political parties, i.e. their representatives. A single procedure is conducted for them. At this stage of the procedure, neither I nor any other prosecutor could provide much information. It is handled professionally, all the evidence is checked and if there is or is not a crime, believe that JO will make an appropriate public prosecutor's decision based on the evidence at his disposal. The case has been registered, it has been assigned to a public prosecutor and certain procedural actions are being taken.

Amendments to the Criminal Code contributed to making several acts of high corruption obsolete, and then the same politicians who passed the amendments continued to call on the judiciary to fight corruption more promptly. How do you comment on that situation?

- During the adoption of the last amendments to this law, OJ was not consulted at all. No one asked us, and we as an authority do not have the authority to comment on legal decisions after they have been adopted. There were claims that we should have protested. And what should we protest when the law was already passed and where should we protest? We are obliged to apply the laws. The fact is that a good part of the cases are out of date, but public prosecutors make every effort to get the most out of each case. The prosecutor's office and the judiciary completely unjustifiably bear the burden of the effect of these changes, which further negatively affected the trust of citizens in judicial institutions.

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