When the Social Welfare Center Becomes a Case

Autor: Milanka Kovačević Drugi pišu
12 minuta čitanja
A Place That Needs Hope – A Rainbow Above Gacko

Instead of focusing on the most vulnerable groups in society, the Social Welfare Center in Gacko has become a battleground for verbal, and apparently physical, altercations. The employees blame the director, Aleksandra Milović, for everything, while she considers herself a victim in the whole story and categorically denies any responsibility for the state of the institution.

A Place That Needs Hope – A Rainbow Above Gacko

The case of the Social Welfare Center in Gacko demonstrates what can happen when party division of director positions and the appointment of individuals who do not meet even the formal requirements for a leadership position occur. Problems are piling up, and tension in the institution is rising. Instead of helping people in need of social assistance, this institution has become a topic of gossip and may soon be addressed by the councillors at a session of the Municipal Assembly of Gacko.

After the local elections in 2020, SNSD and its coalition partners took power in Gacko. One of them is the Socialist Party of Srpska (SPS), which, by dividing the electoral “pie”, gained control over the Social Welfare Center in Gacko.

Learning on the Job

Lacking suitable candidates, they propose to the municipal chief, who then proposes to the Municipal Assembly of Gacko, to appoint Aleksandra Milović, a pedagogue by profession but with only internship experience, as the acting director of the Social Welfare Center. 

Our political practice has completely normalized this type of political corruption, and the president of the Municipal Assembly of Gacko, Rajko Papović, perhaps took it a step further in publicly downplaying the importance of credentials and professional experience.

During the appointment of the acting director in mid-February 2021, Papović noted that neither the public nor the councillors had access to the candidates’ biographies. He justified this by saying that it had not been possible before and that the idea was for them to “learn on the job to work more efficiently”.

Director Milović is also held responsible for the situation at the Center for Children with Special Needs, which was previously harmonious and exemplary in providing daycare for children and young people with developmental disabilities. Now, animosities and conflicts have escalated to the point where the police have called in the involved parties to give statements. Aleksandra Milović claims the issue arose around the speech therapist, whose work was criticized by the president of the “Growing Together” Association. “I called a board meeting, they invited parents who signed statements expressing their satisfaction with the speech therapist's work with their children”, Milović told us. “That's not true. Only four parents, who can be manipulated, signed. The committee determined that 23 children have the right to a speech therapist's help, and I know that the children weren't being worked with”, insisted Gordana Kekić, the association's president.

The political approach, beneficial to certain interests but harmful to the system and society, became evident three and a half years later when the problems culminated, leading to physical confrontations following numerous verbal outbursts.

The director initiated disciplinary proceedings, claiming she was attacked, while some employees addressed an open letter to local authorities, demanding they be relieved of the director who they allege is bullying them.

Problems Multiply

“We have gone to the chief numerous times, both collectively and individually, seeking help and a solution to the problems. But the situation did not improve”, said employees who signed the letter requesting that the situation at the Social Welfare Center be discussed at a session of the Municipal Assembly of Gacko.

“An antagonistic, degrading, humiliating, and insulting environment has been created in our institution, making it impossible for employees who responsibly perform their duties to work. The municipal leadership is aware of all the events in the institution, the treatment of certain employees, and certain clients”, stated the signatories of the letter.

Seven employees accuse the director of repeatedly denying workers their basic rights, discriminating against those who sued the employer over unpaid meal allowances by increasing the salaries of those who did not join the lawsuit, changing the job classification, and most recently, physically attacking a worker against whom she initiated an unfounded disciplinary procedure.

This prompted them to send an open letter primarily to the chief and deputy chief of the municipality, as well as to the president of the Municipal Assembly of Gacko, councillors, and the Union of Employees in the Administration.

Director (Not) Meeting Requirements

“I have five years of work experience in the field, and the professional exam is needed for management bodies, not for social protection. I met the requirements long ago, but last year there was no Assembly, so it got delayed. Whether they will announce a competition, I am not afraid”, she explains.

Would you like to apply?

“In such a collective, believe me, no. Neither as a worker nor as a director”, she answers our question and adds that her arrival as head of the Center practically divided the staff.

Problems from the Start – Aleksandra Milović

When she was appointed, like several other newly appointed managers, she did not meet the requirements to announce a competition. While in other institutions, including RiTE Gacko, where this practice is also followed, the required work experience was reduced to three years, it was impossible in the Center because the Law on Social Protection explicitly stated the conditions the director must meet – five years of experience in the field and a passed professional exam.

In the meantime, competitions were announced for other institutions as each director met the conditions. Thus, a year and a half ago, the agenda of one session included a point related to the competition at the Social Welfare Center.

However, at the beginning of the session, the chief, as the proposer, requested its removal from the agenda. There was no public debate on this, but it was clear that it was a mistake. The employees claim that Milović only recently met the condition but cannot take the professional exam because she does not meet the requirements outlined in the Rulebook. They believe these facts alone are enough to relieve her of her duties, but breaking the law apparently did not bother the local government representatives.

For “Direkt”, Aleksandra Milović says that problems arose as soon as she was appointed.

“It started with that lawsuit for the payment of meal allowances. Half of the staff decided to sue the institution, and those women who did not want to sue were asked to join. I, on my part, asked them to refrain from suing until we see how we will determine the coefficients. Some said they would not sue because I had just come as a director and did not want to complicate the situation, knowing I was not responsible. Suddenly, there was a split”, says Aleksandra Milović, adding that her hands are tied because the institution plans meal allowances for each month, but the municipality allocates funds in the annual budget for only three months. Therefore, the employees decided to pursue their legal rights through the court.

She denies that anyone received a bonus as a reward for “loyalty”, emphasizing that she had a collegial and tolerant relationship with everyone. She claims to have endured insults and disrespect from a colleague with whom she had physical contact. She says that some employees are engaged through projects, which contradicts the law. That's why she formed a Disciplinary Committee to determine all shortcomings and potential violations of the law.

“I will approach this from a legal standpoint”, she says.

She adds that after waiting for 13 years for a job from the employment office, she finally got a job, and “in the end, I got what I got”, she concludes disappointedly.

When asked if she thinks her appointment was a mistake because she failed to deal with the problems, she says:

“You are all familiar with how things work here. I didn't come here alone; someone appointed me. You should discuss that with them”.

Since a group of workers demanded that the problems in this institution be addressed, we also asked her what she expects from the next session of the Gacko Municipal Assembly.

“I simply don't care. I firmly stand behind the claim that not a single word here is true. I followed the Regulations, even when they claim here that I caused them damage”, she says, adding that despite the problems in the Center, they provided quality service to the beneficiaries.

Since the Social Welfare Center has so far portrayed an image of a harmonious collective engaged in sensitive and socially responsible work, and problems have arisen in recent years, we also asked if she sees any responsibility for that.

“No. I assert responsibly that what is happening is happening for no reason”, Milović insists.

We also sent questions to the mayor of the municipality, Ognjen Milinković, and the deputy mayor, Srđan Mandić, who is a party colleague of Aleksandra Milović, but their responses did not arrive before the article was concluded. They did not respond to “Direkt's” calls either.

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