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New method for preventing free access to information

Two examples of the new method for preventing free access to information by the General Secretariat of the Government of the RS

Transparency – Serbia (official chapter of Transparency International - TI) announces that after twelve years of implementation of the Law on Free Access to Information, we noticed completely new method for hindering this civil right. Following the cases of false claims that authority organs are not in a possession of requested documents, declaring secrecy of the documents without legal basis, inventing protection of copyrights, unreasonable referring to legal obstacles or accusing requesters of abuses, now there is new excuse for not providing the information – alleged inaccuracy of the request for free access to information.

According to TS, problem is even more significant due to the fact that its initiator is General Secretariat of the Government of the RS. The answer of this institution is not only contrary to the Law, but to proclaimed policy of the Government in the area of fight against corruption and European integration. Action plans in these areas, adopted precisely by this Government, place freedom of access to information at the top of the agenda.

General Secretariat of the Government fist ignored the request for access to information, that we sent on 28.9.2015, which represents a misdemeanor itself. We resend the request on 23 December, because that document is a precondition for administrative dispute before the Administrative Court, but even than we haven’t received any answer in legal deadline (7 days). Instead, on 13. January we received „request for editing“, obviously inaccurately dated to 31.12.2015 (which means it travelled by mail for 13 days).

According to the Law (article 58 of the Law on General Administrative Procedure), documents are returned for editing when acting upon them is not possible. Although in this specific case there is absolutely no doubt to which information this document refers (Copy of the Memo of Understanding with European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), „request for editing“ of the Government Secretariat states that we have to write down „the description of the requested information“. We answered to General Secretariat of the Government, and among other, pointed out that if the requesters were psychic and had the abilities to describe the information from the documents, than this legal right wouldn’t have any purpose.

We believe that this is not an isolated case or accidental oversight, because we received similar answer from the Government upon other request on 23. 10. 2015.  Besides, Memo whose copy we requested, is a document whose existence is without any doubt – its signing was broadcasted by the media, and Prime Minister, among other, stated (24.9.2015) that „Memo with EBRD is the most important news for Serbia today“.

Transparency – Serbia

Belgrade, 14 January 2016