DIRECTOR BOJCHEVA’S ADDRESS ON THE OCCASION OF THE INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR ACCESS TO INFORMATION
Plamenka Bojcheva, director of the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information, delivered the following address on the occasion of the International Day for Access to Information on September 28th:
“Dear event participants,
I’d hereby like to thank you for attending the International Day of Free Access to Public Information, annually observed on September 28th.
Following the lead of several democratic countries, our country granted citizens the right to free access to public information with the adoption of the first law in 2006.
Today, 15 years after the first legal framework was adopted and nearly two years after the existing Law on Free Access to Public Information entered into force, we can confidently conclude that significant progress has been made in the actualization of this right in the Republic of North Macedonia. The achieved development and advancement of democratic processes in our country are more than visible because the values of a democratic society are best protected by allowing an unhindered flow and free access to public information.
Therefore, I am pleased to report that the Agency’s and its employees’ extraordinary efforts have resulted in a significant increase in the availability of public information in our country, as well as in citizen awareness and education about exercising this right.
Please allow me to summarize the Agency’s activities over the past year.
To date, the Agency has received a total of 708 complaints, of which 639 have been resolved, and the remaining complaints are being processed. I’d also like to highlight the Agency’s most significant accomplishment in its work.
Namely, in the 15 years since the Law’s implementation, the percentage of submitted complaints about the administration’s silence has been cut in half. The multi-year indicator of 70-80 percent that holders do not act within the legally stipulated period after receiving requests has been reduced to 37 percent this year. It demonstrates that the holders act and respond to the applicants’ requests, and the Agency has established itself as a recognizable and respected protector of the right to information.
The number of cases completed by information seekers by stopping the procedure is also significant (about 60%). The Agency not only acts on complaints after receiving them but also advocates and mediates with information holders to ensure that applicants receive the requested information.
The work of the Agency’s misdemeanour commission is also noteworthy. To date this year, it has conducted 341 misdemeanour proceedings against officials who failed to submit an annual report on the application of the Law on Free Access to Public Information within the legal deadline or who failed to act upon the Agency decision.
It is common knowledge that the Agency regularly and continuously educates the officials among the holders of information about the application of the Law through the efforts of its employees, who are highly trained educators. On this occasion, I’d like to highlight the training of political party officials that was held in June in collaboration with the Institute for Republican Research.
During the previous period, the Agency worked on the development of several written materials that facilitate information access for applicants and provide holders with guidelines for open and transparent operations. To that end, we have prepared a Delegation of Authority Guide aimed primarily at the information managers and other accountable parties. The guide will soon be redacted and electronically distributed to all 1440 information holders.
Moreover, the process for enforcing this right is also summarized in a short brochure that is currently being printed and distributed to members of the public.
This year, the Agency, in accordance with its responsibilities, conducted two monitorings of the websites of municipalities, ZELS, and Centers for the Development of Planning Regions, as well as public enterprises, trading companies, and institutions founded by municipalities, and delivered the final report to the monitoring subjects.
On this occasion, I would like to emphasize the importance of the European delegation’s support for the Agency. A campaign called “Choose the right path – Choose Integrity” is currently ongoing as part of the IPA 2 project “Promoting Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration”, which is funded by the European Union. The campaign’s goal is to educate and encourage all citizens, not just civil society organizations and the media, to exercise their right to free access to public information, thereby increasing institutional transparency.
Furthermore, I’m sure you’ve all come across the content that’s been trending on social media with the hashtag “I want to know”. This is the campaign that aims to inform, educate, and raise citizens’ awareness about exercising their right to access public information so that citizens can gain insight into the work of institutions and encourage them to be transparent in their operations.
We are, after all, living in the digital age. It imposes the need for society to adapt to technological changes. While adapting to digital-age trends, modernized IT tools are being developed and implemented to improve the Agency’s operational capacity and provide better services to the applicants and holders of public information. These are the E-portals for Applicants and Owners, respectively. Professor Jakimovski, the team leader who created these two software solutions, will tell you more about them.
I’d hereby like to thank Mr Kashumov, a well-known and recognized expert in the field of free access to information, for joining us today. The long-awaited Manual for the Implementation of the Harm Test, as well as manuals for the proactive publication of 22 categories of information listed in Article 10 of the Law on Free Access to Public Information, were prepared under his leadership.
Anyone who is interested can now access the written materials and electronic platforms that I mentioned on the Agency’s website, www.aspi.mk.
Finally, I would like to thank all of the Agency’s partners and collaborators, particularly the European delegation, for the assistance provided, which is more than necessary for the Agency’s functioning, and I hope that this assistance will continue unabated. I would also like to thank Mr. Nikolovski, deputy prime minister for corruption and crime, sustainable development, and human resources, for recognizing free access to information as one of the tools for combating corruption, as well as for his forceful engagement and commitment to combating corruption and ensuring the high European standards for a transparent democratic society.
Thank you all for your attention.”