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Analysis: Commission for restricted access to information

The ones that are calling on us to fight against corruption and the ones that are teaching us - are actually financing conflict of interests

Klime Babunski

Source: Utrinski vesnik

Generally, the holidays are a natural incentive for summarizing what has (not) been done. When it comes to access to information, this certainly is the 28th of September – the International Day of Free Access to Information. Consequently, the questions would be: is the constitutionally guaranteed right to free access to information becoming a reality in the last 12 months, based on the Law on free access to information? Then comes the question if and how are the various information holders, particularly the State Commission on Free Access to Information implementing the Law, i.e. the Constitution?

Unfortunately, in Macedonia, things in this sphere are much more undone or done wrongly! Actually, while the process of adoption of the Law was unfolding, with a great and unjustified delay, with attempts not to institutionally confirm the basic principles of the concept for free access in the Law, by incorporating genetic mistakes into the Law, its implementation is unfolding in much the same way: anemically, languidly, with many mistakes, with a narrow and rigid interpretation, contrary to the very concept of free access, contrary to this Law as well, and also contrary to some other laws. As it is popularly said - the law is applied “out of sheer need”.

However, despite all the imperfections, the Law comprises the basic principles of the free access concept. In this context, Article 10 is obliging the institutions, as owners of information, to an active interaction: they should publish information about their work themselves. Hence, the organization is obliged to publish the documents created within the frames of everyday work (programs, plans, strategies, decisions, measures, reports), to make them available – and not to wait for someone to submit a request for access to this information!

Six issues of the conflict of interests

1. The commission appoints a member of the Commission, who is an Executive director of MIM, to submit a project through MIM to the call for proposals announced by the British Embassy.
2. The Commission and MIM are supported by the Government for the project.
3. The information about the applying and the project comes from the Embassy, and not from the Commission or MIM.
4. In June, an assessment was published in the media that this “cooperation” is a conflict of interests. The commission and MIM, as well as the Government are not responding to the critiques. The grant agreement has not been signed and the mistakes can still be corrected.
5 In May, the Parliament adopts it, and starts applying the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interests. With this, the remarks and critiques are getting legal confirmation.
6. In the last days of August, the grant agreement was signed, and this action was contrary to the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interests, especially Article 12, paragraph 2.

Of course, it is logical that the example for this openness would come exactly from the Commission on Free Access to Information. Therefore, it is completely unacceptable that the Commission justifies the non-publishing of its own Report with the waiting for the interpretation by the Parliament. Double paradox: on one hand, the Commission which is formed as an independent institution and based on this, should be the greatest patron of free access (this is why it was actually formed), is waiting for the Parliament’s permission in order to reveal its own report?! And, on the other hand, one of the essential documents for the situation in the sphere of free access to information in Macedonia is not available, as if it is a state secret?! Unfortunately, the isolation of the Commission is not restricted to the report only. Has the Commission published the results of its basic work until now: the rejected or approved complaints for access to information? Up to now, has the Commission published the agendas and minutes from its meetings somewhere? Has it published the training plan for the servants who should be implementing the Law? Has the Commission ever published its own budget and purpose of the public money it (will spend) is spending on promoting free access? Is the Commission maybe waiting for the Parliament to interpret the law so that it can publish this? Exactly this isolation of the Commission is the worst signal, which the institutions – owners of information can get. With this “working” the following message is sent: “If the Commission can “implement” the Law like this, then why shouldn’t we do the same?”

Actually, the condition remains almost unchanged, if not worse – now the unavailability is hidden behind the smoke screen of the Commission! Hence, the budgets for various programs, conferences, celebrations, campaigns, the financial reports, debts, contracts, the minutes from the meetings, remain unavailable. It is clear that there is no misrepresentation of the omissions if we take into consideration the complete context and meaning of the Law. Namely, in every country in which there is a process for adoption of this kind of Law, it is clearly emphasized that exactly this law and its implementation is the first step, necessary prerequisite for a fight against corruption. The arguable “decisions” in the Law were publicly criticized since the time it was adopted. The deafness to the critiques of the former, and of the current government as well, and especially the deafness of the Commission to the remarks of the expert public, which were not only mentioned to the Commission, but they were also published in the media, are the most serious obstacle for the application of the Law and the concept for free access and directly lead to a conflict of interests. This substandard ethical and professional capacity of the Commission is quite naturally turning into an irresponsible and unlawful working.

Do we really need to remind that the conflict of interests is a source of corruption, and the corruption is a crime, and… The will be no “ands” and “buts” anymore, because as the representatives of the Macedonian Institute for Media and the Commission for Free Access and its president state: “The Government fully supports this”. And, when this is the case, money can be easily obtained, such as the grant from the British Embassy.

When all the smoke screens are removed, we again have a paradox situation before us! The ones that are calling on us to fight against corruption – are actually supporting it, and the ones that are teaching us about having a modern, efficient and honest administration, are actually financing conflict of interests. Did the Embassy of her Majesty know what it is financing; did the Government know what it is supporting? They know, but it would be good if they also let the public know what they are actually supporting and financing. But, the ones that wrote and played the script, that were silent after the publicly stated critiques that this is a conflict of interests, will now have to open their eyes and except the Law on free access to read the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interests, especially the articles 12, 13 and 14. Or maybe they will again ask the Parliament to interpret the Law for them in this case!?