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Ask The Prime Minister

                        Ask the Prime Minister


PM Marković in interview with Pobjeda daily: We passed most difficult exam

PM Marković in interview with Pobjeda daily: We passed most difficult exam
Published date: 21.05.2020 11:30 | Author: PR Service

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Podgorica, Montenegro (21 May 2020) – Montenegro has achieved a lot in 14 years since the restoration of independence, but more could have been done on the internal plan, above all to create unity around the same goal of a more developed, richer and more democratic Montenegro, Prime Minister Duško Marković pointed out in an interview with Pobjeda daily. 

After a feverish struggle, Montenegro is on the verge of becoming a "corona free" country in Europe. How is it possible that a country whose health care system was rated the worst 135th system in Europe five years ago becomes the first European country without the infected?

MARKOVIĆ: It is a truly pleasure today to talk about the results and outcome of the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, which Montenegro has achieved. In mid-March, the whole world, including Montenegro, was trembled of the consequences of this vicious disease, especially since there was relatively little scientific and any other knowledge and information that would guide and direct us. We did not wait for the appearance of the first infected patient to get our institutions back on their feet. As early as the beginning of January, we started decisively, with clear measures, which passed several checks: from daily monitoring of global circumstances, through the opinions of our experts, to making nuanced state decisions.

That’s kind of a decision was the one to close our borders towards six endangered countries at the very beginning, before the pandemic was declared; to stop flights to destinations, where the infection has already been developed; and to focus on the procurement of protective equipment and not on the race for respirators and hospital beds. We mobilised the whole system, formed the National Coordination Body and a dozen operational bodies, mobilised almost 100.000 people in various services and they responded to the task. Better than any rating list, this shows that our health care system is worth much more than a statistical 135th place. It confirms that Montenegro has built and capable institutions, which serve the citizens and their country. All this in synergy, with a clear vision, coordination and respect for the hierarchy, has led us to, as we expect soon, the status of a corona-free state. Our citizens, foreign investors, but also our foreign partners have recognised this. Now is the time to use such a reputation in tourism, the economy and further development. Only in this way, we can mitigate the consequences of the inevitable crisis, which will be severe and will last.

Did you have any, even hidden, dose of fear that the institutions would not function, that they would not be up to the task, did you believe that the citizens would be so disciplined? After this, will Montenegrin institutions be viewed differently in Montenegro and abroad?

MARKOVIĆ: I had no fears for the functionality of the institutions. Such doubts always come from those, who are out of the system and who look at things from afar. Otherwise, the Prime Minister is the address that is the best familiar with the capability and potential weaknesses in the institutions. Therefore, we did not even look back at such assessments, as every following day, the implementation of each new measure and the successful implementation of what was prescribed, denied them. The discipline of citizens or better said, their cooperation, is also conditioned by the credibility of the institutions, which require that discipline. There as well, Montenegro passed the exam - not only the cooperation of institutions and citizens, and their responsibilities, but also an important test of solidarity in action. Let’s remind the list of citizens, companies and institutions that came to assist, the payment of donations, the transfer of entire buildings and complexes without compensation, benefactors from the diaspora. Never less distinctions and never more togetherness than in those crucial days. Even during the greatest danger caused by the epidemic, when there is doubt and fear in each of us, until today, trust in institutions is never greater, as well as the satisfaction of citizens. The institutions themselves have registered this through work and action; the entire public through the surveys and research, and we in the Government through letters of support that arrive every day. In a word, Montenegro confirmed that it is a responsible, mature and democratic society.

How accurate is the unofficial information I have: that trust in the Government you have headed has jumped dramatically over the last three months and has reached the highest point ever so that 66 percent of citizens trust the Government?

MARKOVIĆ: Our citizens recognize the efforts and results of the Government. They see that our goal is clear and obvious: and that is their health and their material position at a time when health, living standards and unfortunately the lives of people around the world are threatened. Confidence in the institutions is a product of synergy and mutual respect. And I believe that the results you mention, that 66 percent, i.e. two - thirds of its citizens trust the Government of Montenegro, exactly reflect what we have achieved. The Government will continue to work diligently to implement its program goals. But now when we are threatened by a long-lasting economic crisis, our responsibility and duty to every citizen and his family is in so far the more complex and greater.

However, not everyone listened to the instructions from the state. When we look back at the events since the appearance of the coronavirus, it turns out that the institution that mostly ignored the measures of the National Coordination Body and the Government of Montenegro was the Serbian Orthodox Church. Is it that the Serbian Orthodox Church does not want to accept the fact that Montenegro has its own legal system and order that must be respected? In Serbia, for example, they followed all the instructions of the authorities…

MARKOVIĆ: Recent events have shown that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro could do more in a specific situation and help more to its believers and all citizens of Montenegro. We have witnessed a specific attitude of the Serbian Orthodox Church towards our state and its institutions since before. Unfortunately, this attitude of appropriation of Montenegro in the religious-ideological sense, which comes from the headquarters of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the simultaneous denial of its statehood and disrespect for its institutions, has shown its absurdity and fatality in this situation. Citizens should recognise the intentions of all other structures that have called for extremism and violence these days, because it is nothing but a continuation of the events that we had the opportunity to see on our streets in 2015 and 2016 and in the last days of 2019. I am convinced that our citizens realise that and that they are already making a departure from political entities, which have clearly identified themselves. Regarding the second part of your question: Of course, Montenegro has its own legal order and its laws must be respected! And precisely these laws guarantee all religious communities, including the Serbian Orthodox Church, the necessary autonomy in religious affairs. Here we come to the point of disagreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church. I ask you - would it be possible in another state, even in Serbia as the mainstream of the Serbian Orthodox Church, for the state and institutions to adopt one rule, and the church another? And then the church exempts certain citizens from those rules. So, this is an absurdity for which must not be place in Montenegro.

The Government tried to mitigate the devastating economic consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic with two packages of measures. There were also critical assessments in the parliament that all this is insufficient, that it does not help survival… You announced the third package of measures, what will be the essence, a direction of the third package?

MARKOVIĆ: Criticism, especially constructive, is always welcome, but the solutions offered must be realistic and sustainable. You know that in four years I have never resorted to populist proposals, no matter how many political points they bring. The first two packages of measures were timely, comprehensive, focused primarily on maintaining liquidity and employment. They had a social omen, as the most appropriate response in the first phases of the crisis, created by causes that are not of an economic nature. The third package of measures will shift the focus in favour of development. The crisis is suppressed only by development, there are no other sustainable solutions. The situation with the coronavirus, when many countries closed themselves, showed that Montenegro must turn to itself because we have seen that we have both, knowledge and people who can produce more and create sustainable solutions.

What does this exactly mean?

MARKOVIĆ: As of today, the structure of our future development must move towards a larger share of the processing industry, agricultural production and livestock, energy and digital society. The structure of domestic and foreign direct investments should follow this direction. Through the third package of measures of the Government, a special focus will be on supporting branches of the economy that will achieve a high level of productivity and reduction of the country's exposure to negative macroeconomic trends, through investing in domestic production to replace imports and encourage export-oriented activities. Accordingly, the measures will be implemented through the effective and efficient use of existing resources, but also the great potential of the banking sector in Montenegro and the strong support of the Investment and Development Fund, which was not lacking even in the first months of the crisis.

Numerous international institutions estimate that Montenegro, along with Croatia, will have the largest decline in GDP, because the filling of the state treasury is largely dependent on tourism. A drop of at least 9 percent is also mentioned… Does the Government have a different assessment?

MARKOVIĆ: There is no greater threat to economic stability than uncertainty. It is, unfortunately, the main feature of the crisis caused by the coronavirus. Almost all the aside projections on economic growth in the mandate of this Government were wrong, just as the predictions of the capacity of our health system to respond to this epidemic were wrong. I hope that we will be able to show once again that reality is better than predictions. The projections of the fall are different and range from five to, as you said, nine percent. Our projections are similar and through the budget revision, which is being prepared, they will be specified and elaborated in as much detail as possible. But we are focused on work and growth. I have already said that we want to make a turn in the economy and encourage production and exports, as well as to reduce imports. It is true that filling the budget depends on tourism, but it is not our only source of income. And we are preparing serious support for this area, in order to mitigate the consequences, this important sector is suffering, not only in Montenegro but all over the world.

Will there be tourists this year?

MARKOVIĆ: I'm sure it will be. Because Montenegro offers quality and, most importantly, safety! We have been a safe destination for years. You know that other destinations, even in Europe, have been shaken by terrorism and other security challenges. In our country, peace has never been called into question. It is the same with the situation related to the coronavirus. I believe that our country has given one of the best answers in the world in the fight against this plague and that tourists from the region and beyond will recognise it.

Are you optimistic that the Montenegrin economy will still rise after this crisis and when you expect the first signs of recovery?

MARKOVIĆ: As the forecasts of the reference institutions agree that Montenegro will face a recession in 2020, they equally agree that in 2021 the economic recovery and positive amplitudes of economic growth are expected at almost the same level as the projected decline for 2020. A gradual and partial recovery and growth of the economy is expected in 2021, due to the expected recovery of tourism and other export sectors of services, growth of private and public consumption, and the recovery of indicators at the labour market. 

Especially, I would like to emphasize the investments, as a flywheel not only of recovery but also of future development. I am thinking here of the recently completed investments, investments that are coming to an end, but also those that will follow in strategically important sectors of our future development. All of them together will contribute to increasing the capital base of the new economic growth of the Montenegrin economy in the medium and long term. In addition to all the above, whoever does not have the necessary dose of optimism was in advance defeated before the unimaginable scale of the crisis, which in a short period of time is destroying even the most developed economies in the world.