A fight over whether the head of the Conflict of Interest Commission should recuse herself from a probe involving the Prime Minister has reached a stalemate.
The question the committee was supposed to debate was which body has the authority to assess whether recusal was warranted. HDZ-led majority on the powerful Committee on the Constitution refused to even debate the question.
"I believe this would violate the principles of the division of powers and the principle of legality," said Marija Jelkovec, arguing on behalf of the HDZ to withdraw the item from the agenda, which they did.
Angered by the move, the opposition minority on the committee left the chamber. SPD MP Peđa Grbin says it's all a ruse to protect the PM.
"When it became clear that there was no body with the authority to consider the recusal question, the HZD stepped in to ensure parliament cannot solve this issue."
The Conflict of Interest Commission was supposed to consider whether the Prime Minister was in a conflict of interest during the drafting of the Agrokor Law. The Prime Minister insisted the Commission's chair, Nataša Novaković, should recuse herself, because she had ties to Agrokor through her former employers.
Novaković believes she is competent of handling the matter and wants a higher authority to make the call. There is no prescription in the law as to which authority that might be.
The HDZ argues that parliament should not meddle in the business of the Commission, which, although its members are approved by lawmakers, is supposed to be an independent body.
"If a political body were to make a decision about a member of the commission or its chair, then we can say bye-bye to the independence of the commission," said HDZ MP Branko Bačić.
So who should decide which body has the power to do so? Bačić argues it is the Constitutional Court. The opposition does not buy that argument and accuses the ruling majority of bending over backwards to shield the Prime Minister.
Asked whether this was his way of preventing the Commission from potentially finding him in conflict of interest, speaking to reporters in Zadar today, the Prime Minister denied this was the case and claimed that there was no conflict of interest.
"There is an element here that has to do with the principle of executive action," he told reporters, citing a recent ruling by the Administrative Court related to the conflict of interest case against former Economy Minister Martina Dalić.
Novaković says this issue is preventing the Commission from addressing two cases and urges lawmakers to fix the problem.
"Parliament should consider this issue and fast-track amendments to the conflict of interest law, with respect to only the issue of recusal, and designate an authority for making that decision and a time frame. If fast-tracked, this could be done quickly," Novaković said.