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Right to Know Day Marked in SEE

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Last Friday, September 28, 2012, the world marked the 10th Right to Know Day (the International Day of Freedom of Information). The organizations and associations working in the field of freedom of information, but also associations fighting corruption all over the world and in our region of Southeast Europe, organized a variety of activities to mark the Right to Know Day. Following is an overview of activities organized in the region on September 28.

In a ceremony organized on the Right to Know Day at the National Library of Serbia, the Commissioner for public information and protection of personal data Rodoljub Šabić, presented the annual awards for promotion of the right to access information to the National Parliament of Serbia in the category of highest institutions of power, to the City of Požarevac, Nova Varoš Municipality, the Provincial secretariat of finance of Vojvodina and the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia.

The winners of this year’s awards were selected by a competent jury made of representatives of the academia, Transparency Serbia, OSCE Mission and UNDP Serbia, civil and associations of media professionals – the Coalition for Freedom of Access to Information, Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) and Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS).

“If you asked the experts from the region, the monitors from the EU, the Council of Europe or OSCE, they would tell you that the right to access information, compared to the other new, transition rights in Serbia, undoubtedly achieved a continuous and significant growth and progress. We have a result that we can’t be ashamed of, but, at the same time, that is not result that should satisfy us. We need more, we need better results of higher quality”, Šabić said in a statement for the media on the Right to Know Day.

In Zagreb, Croatia, the GONG Association organized, on the Day of Freedom of Information and in view of announced changes in the Law on the Right to Access Information, the “Information for Democracy” conference that discussed improvements of transparency standards and proactive publication of information by public governance bodies.

Andreja Žapčić reports for GONG’s website that the participants of the conference, held at the Croatian Sabor (the Parliament), agreed that the drawers and cabinets of government ministries, agencies and other bodies hold under lock a huge social development resource. Andrew Stott, one of the founders of the data.gov.uk portal, member of UK Government Transparency Council and former Deputy UK Commissioner for Information, illustrated that situation with the findings of a survey commissioned by the European Commission which show that the 27 EU member states could benefit to the amount of close to €140 billion if the government would release all the information they hold.

GONG-s conference (Photo: GONG)GONG-s conference (Photo: GONG)“Today, when we have the global information system – the internet – it is cheap and easy to release the data so other people could use them, in a creative and innovative ways, to create new value for society. It also allow the citizens to work hand-in-hand with the Government to improve the key public services, like hospitals, schools or the police, and the ministries would get assistance from the public in the upgrades of their databases. For example, the Ministry of Transport worked with an open street map to check the locations of approximately 300,000 bus stops. As a result of that process, the locations of 18,000 bus stops were corrected and the proper locations entered”, Stott noted.

On the Right to Know Day, Transparency International Croatia presented the findings of a public opinion survey, conducted for TI Croatia by the Promocija Plus agency on September 3-4. The results show that, nine years after the adoption of the Law on the Right to Access Information, just 47.5 percent of the citizens knew it existed. That is, however, a significant improved over the findings of a similar survey conducted in 2007, when slightly more than one quarter (29.5%) knew about the Law. For the other findings of the survey, see the linked PDF document.

TI Croatia noted that the findings demonstrate that public governance and administration bodies in Croatia should invest greater effort in promotion and implementation of the Law and establish a more efficient communication between government bodies and the citizens, to allow for more successful management of public resources and minimized risks of corruption.

“If we want to create the conditions for efficient implementation of the law, there is a need for continued education of the citizens. Also, adequate resources should be provided to ensure quality operations of the independent body that oversees the implementation of the Law”, says the report published on the TI Croatia website.

In September/October 2012, Transparency International Croatia implements the sixth “We have the right to know” campaign for promotion of the Law on the Right to Access Information.

On September 28, the Day of Freedom of Information, Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina (TI BiH), in cooperation with the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, organized the “Informed Citizen – Accountable Government” conference on Thursday, September 27, at the “Evropa” Hotel in Sarajevo.

The conference offered an opportunity to summarize the current situation in the area of implementation of the right to access information and citizen participation in decision making processes in BiH and the region. In two working panels, and on basis of past experiences of state institutions, CSOs and the media, the conference produced a list of recommendations.

In Banja Luka’s Krajina Square, the activists of TI BiH distributed leaflets informing the citizens about their right when addressing institutions with requests for information and how they can insure that right would be realized. The citizens also had a chance, at the information stand set up by TI BiH, to complete requests for information, using regular forms.

TI BiH activists at the Krajina Square in Banja Luka (Photo: Klix.ba)TI BiH activists at the Krajina Square in Banja Luka (Photo: Klix.ba)

"The action aims to inform the citizens about their rights and instruments available to them in the communication with public institutions. Also, the citizens were offered a possibility to make a proper request for information, which TI BiH will forward to the competent institutions”, Ivana Korajlić from TI BiH told the Klix.ba portal.

She added that TI BiH will then refer the responses of the public institutions to the citizens, in the attempt to motivate the citizens to go to the institutions and realize their right to information more often.

On Friday evening, TI BiH organized the Right2Know Party, at the DFK Club in Banja Luka, with performances by British duo Silicone Soul, and local acts Fakir (Noise Destruction), Forest People and Spark.

TI BiH conducted a survey to test the level of implementation of the Law on Free Access to Information by the state institutions in the country. Under the auspices of the survey, 148 requests for information were sent to all ministries in national, entity and Brčko District governments.

43% of the contacted institutions responded to the requests within the legal deadline of 15 days, and another 38% responded after repeated urging and intervention.

Twenty percent of all institutions didn’t provide any response to the requests, and TI BiH filed 26 complaints for administrative silence, on bases of provisions in the Law on Free Access to Information and the Law on Administrative Procedures.

On the other hand, in four out of five cases, there was no official decision to present the information, which proves that BiH institutions remain largely uncertain about the proper procedure for presentation of information.

As with previous annual surveys conducted by TI BiH, there is an evident practice of incorrect exemption of public information and failure to apply the public interest test.

In Macedonia, the Foundation Open Society Macedonia (FOSM) presented, on September 27, the analysis of the implementation of the Law on Free Access to Public Information. The general conclusion is that the Law is essentially fine, while its implementation is lacking on several levels.

“40 percent of the 732 filed requests for information were appealed to the Commission for Protection of the Right to Free Access to Information. More than a half of all appeals and complaints refer to administrative silence”, said Danče Danilovska in the presentation.

The analysis, which will be published in full in November, finds that local administrations are less open than the central government institutions, and notes the frequent phenomenon where holders of information try, through general or vague answers, to evade the obligation to present information.

On the Right to Know Day, the FOL Movement published the results of the survey that shows that 53.6% of the polled citizens said they know Kosovo had a Law on Free Access to Public Documents, but also that the knowledge of actual provisions of the Law remains very low.

The survey was a part of the “Accountability Test” campaign that the FOL Movement launched at the start of September 2012, in eight municipalities in Kosovo, offering assistance to the interested citizens to prepare their requests for access to public documents.

Under the auspices of the campaign, a total of 274 requests were filed – 98.3 percent to local administration bodies and institutions and 1.6% were addressed to the central government. Of the total number of requests, 58.3% received positive answer, 8.3% were denied, and in 33.3% of all cases, the institutions provided only partial access to requested information.

By the moment of writing of this article, there were no information about any activities to mark the Right to Know Day in Montenegro and Albania.

The International Right to Know Day was established in 2002, at a meeting of freedom of information organizations in Sofia, Bulgaria. Since then, the Right to Know Day has been marked every September 28, with activities that celebrated and raise awareness about freedom of information.

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