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Our “transparent” Government is the most silent institution in the country

The “transparent” Government is actually the most silent institution in our country. It seems that the Government’s leading position in the top list of isolated institutions is more than deserved. The administration of Nikola Gruevski did not have the courtesy to reply to a single question of the citizens even after a year since practicing the Law on free access to public information! The government departments for culture, health, defense, diplomacy and education cannot be praised for their openness either.

Public enterprises and institutions such as “Macedonian railways”, the Central Register, the University “Sts. Cyril and Methodius” seldom reply to questions.

The Notary Chamber and the political parties are exempting themselves from the law, believing that the legal provisions for providing information do not concern them.

Despite this crystal clear situation, nobody has yet been punished for disobeying the law.

These are some of the conclusions that can be derived from the annual research of the Foundation Open Society Institute – Macedonia regarding the freedom of information, performed on the occasion of the application of the legal decision which should undoubtedly undergo various corrections as soon as possible.

In the period between the 1st of September, 2006 and the 1st of September, 2007, the research participants have submitted 625 information requests to 75 central-level institutions and 31 municipalities. Only 48.6 percent of the requests were completely and promptly replied to, i.e. every second question was answered. The judicial organs and local authorities replied to 58 percent of the questions, the state and independent organs replied to 50 percent of the questions, the Parliament, Government and ministries replied to 38 percent of the requests, public enterprises and institutions replied to 26 percent, whereas the political parties replied to only 11 percent of the questions.

It is particularly disturbing that the percent of requests that are not replied by the administration is too big. The information holders are legally obliged to immediately reply to the request, or within 30 days at the latest.
The representatives of the Open Society Institute are emphasizing that the information holders must not abuse the institute “silent administration” and keep the requests in their drawers. The research indicated that there are many inconsistencies and omissions in the work of the civil servants. Sometimes the citizens cannot submit a request if the authorized official is not at work. In some cases, the civil servants are rejecting requests, since they are not making any difference between a document and public information. The manner of the civil servants who are contacting the applicants is astonishing, since they are asking them to verbally explain why they need the information. For instance, an authorized person from the ecology department requested an applicant to explain why he is asking how many days has the minister spent on official trips in 2006.

The president of the Commission for Free Access to Information, Janko Nikolovski, emphasizes that the law is not perfect, but that it is applicable. He referred to the impression that the legal solution promotes freedom, but that it is implemented by force, and this, according to Nikolovski, is an “expression of incapacity of the entire society”. There are many imperfections in the law which should undergo changes. The Commission believes that it is necessary to reduce the deadlines for replying to the citizens’ requests. The head of the Commission for Free Access to Information stressed that there is a trend of ignoring the law among certain institutions which are firmly convinced that the legal provisions are not concerning them.

Nikolovski emphasized that the civil servants and the lists of information are not being announced, and he noted that the replacements of the authorized persons responsible for providing information are a frequent phenomenon.

Source: Katica Changova / Utrinski vesnik