“I WANT TO KNOW” — BECAUSE CITIZENS HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW HOW PUBLIC MONEY IS SPENT
The director of the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information, Plamenka Bojcheva, gave an interview to the “Observer” portal, which we are transmitting in its entirety.
The Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information is one of the institutions involved in the “Choose the Right Direction: Integrity” project, which aims to promote integrity as a key foundation of society and democracy and one of the fundamental values of the EU.
As Bojcheva sees it, this project will remind the general public that it is the citizen, not the institution, who ultimately bears responsibility for accountability.
“The main premise of the campaign ‘Choose the right direction: Integrity’ is that individuals have the power to shape the national level of integrity through the small, everyday actions they take. Citizens should be encouraged to make decisions like refusing to participate in corrupt practices, disclosing corruption and other illegal and unethical acts, and monitoring the operation of the public administration. By exercising their right to access public information, citizens can keep a watchful eye on how their government spends the budget funds and ensure that the public money is being put to good use.
With this project, in which we take part with the slogan “I want to know”, I expect to achieve increased visibility of the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information to encourage citizens to exercise their constitutional right to access information about the activities of the institutions and the costs of their operations, to educate them on how to exercise their rights and how to contact us if the holders of information from whom they requested it did not provide them with the information”, says director Plamenka Bojcheva.
Although the law guarantees everyone the right to access documents and public information, research shows that only a fraction of the population uses these resources due to insufficient awareness of the possibilities offered by the law for free access to public information. In most cases, citizens, particularly journalists and non-governmental organizations, file complaints with the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information when institutions fail to provide financial information, such as information about the costs of their operations.
“In the first half of 2021, the Agency received 561 complaints, all of which were resolved within the legal deadline of 15 days. Institutions are required to make available all public information that they have created or possessed. They are also obligated to provide data on the competencies they perform, a list of persons employed in the institution, official e-mail and phone, strategic plans and strategies for work, annual plans and programs for work, annual budget and final account, annual financial plans by quarters, budget implementation programs, audit reports, and types of services they provide (among many other items) on their websites.
Citizens need to know what information they should request and how to request them, which is why I encourage them to visit our website for more detailed information, www.aspi.mk, for more details”, suggested director Bojcheva.
Journalistic surveys say that institutions have placed only 63% of all the information they should publish on their web pages. This percentage is increasing but still insufficient. The Agency continuously monitors the websites of the information holders and provides regular, free training for the officials in the institutions that should facilitate citizens’ access to the information and educate them on how to submit a request and exercise their rights.
In addition, the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information can impose fines on those institutions that refuse to comply with the law and respond to requests for information.
Bojcheva also emphasized that “the Agency conducts misdemeanour proceedings against the persons employed by the holders of information who prevented access to public information or did not comply with legal obligations following the law. In this regard, there were ten misdemeanour procedures in 2020, while in 2021, there were three misdemeanour sanctions, one warning, and two fines overall. There were also 336 ongoing proceedings, 333 of which have been initiated against officials who did not prepare and submit an Annual Report on the Implementation of the Law on the Free Access to Public Information to the Agency”.