In 2018, amendments to the Law on the Security Information Agency (BIA) were adopted. The amendments, which define the powers of the agency’s director, increase his decision-making authority over agency personnel. Under the amendments, the BIA director has an exclusive right to decide on the employment, job organisation and professional training of BIA employees.
- Public institutions
Description of the law
In 2018, amendments to the Law on the Security Information Agency (BIA) were adopted. The amendments, which define the powers of the agency’s director, increase his decision-making authority over agency personnel. Under the amendments, the BIA director has an exclusive right to decide on the employment, job organisation and professional training of BIA employees. The director decides directly on new appointments without the need for a public competition, as well as on agency members’ professional development and the programming and pass or fail of a professional exam. The law stipulates that the procedure, criteria and assessment of the annual performance evaluation of agency employees is regulated by an order issued by the director. The information contained in the order is deemed secret and treated in accordance with the law governing the confidentiality of information. The BIA director is appointed and dismissed by the government. Since May 2017, the BIA director has been Bratislav Gašić, a close associate of the Serbian President Vučić.
The government’s rationale for the 2018 amendments was to improve the employment and legal status of BIA employees and to align BIA legislation with legislation governing other public sector bodies. The amendments were sent to Parliament by urgent procedure on the grounds that otherwise BIA’s capacity to respond to security threats would be limited. However, the amendments were not adopted until eight months later.
Critics argue that the amendment’s goal was to legalise unilateral employment decisions by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and expand its power by selecting suitable BIA personnel who would advance the party’s agenda. Other critics pointed to the unconstitutional nature of the law, especially in relation to security checks and data protection, and questioned the law’s alignment with EU legislation.
Full Law Name
Law on the Security Information Agency (Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia No. 42/2002, 111/2009, 65/2014 – Decision of Constitutional Court, 66/2014 and 36/2018)
Type of law
Act of Parliament
Scope of application
Substantive: competences of the director of the Security Information Agency
Personal: employees of the Security Information Agency
Temporal: until abrogated
Time of adoption and entering to force
The amendments were adopted on 9 May 2018 and the law entered into force on 16 May 2018.
Who drafted it
The Government of Serbia
Who submitted it to Parliament or other collective body, such local council
The Government of Serbia
Relevant developments in the process of adoption that show signs it is tailor-made
The government proposed amendments to the Law on the Security Information Agency in August 2017 by urgent procedure justified by the need to protect national security. Such procedures preclude public debate and entail the quick adoption of laws. The reasons given to use the urgent procedure for the amendments included claims that if they were not made in a timely manner, the BIA would face difficulties in effectively protecting the constitutional order and the security of Serbia, which would also have harmful consequences for its citizens. However, the proposed amendments did not reach the agenda of Parliament until eight months later and were not adopted until May 2018.
The amendments were proposed by the Government of Serbia soon after the appointment of Bratislav Gašić as BIA director on 23 May 2017. Gašić is one of the closest associates of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
Who adopted it
The Serbian Parliament, votes of the ruling party
It is enforced
Initiatives to challenge it and their outcomes
Independent experts and a segment of the independent media believe that the changes were made in order to turn the agency into one of the actors in the persecution of dissidents and political opponents, and one of the main participants in the creation of a captured security service.
During the preparation of the amendments, Rodoljub Šabić, Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Protection of Personal Data, warned of several specific shortcomings, particularly the regulations on security checks and the confidentiality of data. According to the proposed amendments, any issues related to security checks would fall under an order enacted by the BIA director, which is contrary to the Constitution. Šabić added that the regulation of classified information stipulated in the amendments contradicts the Law on Data Secrecy.
Following the bill’s proposal in August 2017, experts and opposition MPs made several more criticisms. The biggest objections and warnings concerned the proposed changes to the powers of the agency’s director, specifically his exclusive right to decide on the employment, job organisation and professional training of BIA employees.
For example, the former deputy interior minister Božo Prelević argued that the proposed changes open the door to “infinite abuses”. In Prelević’s remarks to Beta News Agency, "everything now seems far worse than it was before 2000. BIA Director Bratislav Gašić clearly wants absolute power with no oversight. After these changes, the possibilities for abuse are endless, and it should be borne in mind that they have not been trivial in the past. Gašić did not come to the helm of the BIA based on his knowledge and skills, but as a member of the [ruling SNS] party. These changes are the reason for all the warning lights to come on." Prelević recalled that the NGO Lex, as far back as 2002, proposed a better Law on the BIA, which was subsequently dismissed, whereas the new changes create the possibility of setting up “a partisan intelligence service”.
Similarly, the Democratic Party (DS) reckoned in August 2017 that the amendments, which entered the urgent parliamentary procedure at the request of the Serbian government, “represented a continuation of the BIA’s politicisation and the creation of Vučić's secret police under Gašić's control.” According to the DS statement, "The agency must not, in any way, pursue the interests of any political party in its jurisdiction. The BIA must be apolitical, and the job postings must be public and transparent, with an emphasis on expertise and professionalism, without any influence from political parties."
The Executive Director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCBP) Predrag Petrović issued similar warnings: "This can further politicise the agency. If the director is the one who has the final say on who will be employed or not, even if there is a candidate with no affiliation to a political party, the director can
Public institutions & civil service
Direct beneficiaries and related networks
Members of the ruling SNS party
Security sector employees and potential employees because it reduces the opportunities for employment and promotion based on merit
The politicisation of the security sector has an overall effect on the Serbian population since it might lead to putting public resources and the functions of security at the service of political agendas rather than the population’s safety.
In addition, any direct appointment that is potentially based on party affiliation or loyalty to the ruling party erodes social trust in public institutions and democratic values.
Impact on rule of Law
Is there any corruption case that is linked to the tailor-made law?