PROACTIVE TRANSPARENCY OF INSTITUTIONS FOR MORE EFFICIENT USE OF PUBLIC INFORMATION
“There is a shortage of 536 firefighters in the country, and we have 200 fire engines, most of which are older than 18 years. Furthermore, we have a total of 183 ambulances, of which 77% were donated. These data were obtained through the right of access to public information and were indicated at the public debate “Effective use of the right of free access to public information in the process of strengthening the integrity of public institutions with a special emphasis on young people”, organized by the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information”.
The public debate is part of the project “Promoting transparency and accountability in the public administration of the Republic of North Macedonia”, financed by the European Union.
During the discussion, participants indicated that there has been notable progress in the use of the right to free access to public information but that more work is required to enhance this process. The proactive transparency of institutions is of the utmost importance, and when it is attained, it can be said that qualitative progress has been made.
Plamenka Bojcheva, the director of the Agency, highlighted that the right to free access to public information is guaranteed by the Constitution (Article 16, paragraph 3) and that citizens should make maximum use of this right.
“The development of democracy and the rule of law relies on the transparency and accountability of institutions. Despite the improvement of the legislative framework in this area, we must continue to raise awareness, particularly among the management structures of institutions, to foster a culture in which they will publish information of public interest without waiting for a request.
In addition, it is important to streamline and improve the procedure for everyone, especially for the young individuals, which is extremely important in this process,” said Bojcheva.
Aleksandar Kashumov, the project’s leading expert on free access to public information, also emphasized the significance of enhancing the procedure and fostering a heightened understanding of constitutional and legal rights.
“The new law represents a good basis for further improvement of the process by informing the public, as well as for an increased institutional efficacy”.
“We are collaborating with the Agency to develop handbooks that will facilitate broader use of public information in a timely and efficient manner,” Kashumov explained.
Moreover, Danche Bajdevska of the Open Society Foundation, an organization that participated in the preparation of the new Law on Free Access to Public Information, emphasized that, despite the advances, there is still room for improvement, particularly in the area of proactive institutional openness.
“The procedure has advanced, so we should have no qualms at this point. This procedure led to the creation of the open budget instrument, which contributes to the increased transparency of the institutions. But it should not be enough to satisfy us; we must continue to progress, particularly in the area of request processing efficiency. For instance, last year, the institutions responded to 81% of the 400 requests that we received, but only 50% of the responses were within the legal deadline”, said Bajdevska.
It is crucial for young people to have unrestricted access to public information, and they should exercise this right to the fullest extent feasible since it increases the capacity of institutions and strengthens their credibility.
“The current level of free access to public information is not very high, but compared to the scenario 15 years ago, we have made significant progress. A great deal has been accomplished, but young people must recognize that this is a significant process that enables not only greater institutional accountability but also greater personal responsibility. I hereby urge the institutions to share publicly relevant information in a transparent and easily accessible format”, noted German Filkov of the Center for Civil Communications.
With the new law on access to public information and financing of political parties, information of public interest are now available to the general public. To this end, work is being done to increase the human capacities of the parties, and the nominated officials in this field are actively receiving training.
“This law granted the financing of political parties the status of information of public interest, which is crucial to the functioning of our democracy. In order to fully implement this process, however, we are collaborating with party representatives on education and the development of additional procedures, following the examples set by developed democracies such as the United States and the United Kingdom”, said Maria Sazdevski of the International Republican Institute (IRI).
In a survey conducted by the IRI last year with the participation of representatives from 0 parliamentary parties, 91% responded that they have appointed an official person to exercise the right to free access to public information, while 78% stated that the party employs that person. No party has yet changed the internal acts and procedures that define the procedure for requests for public information.
Moreover, Alexandra Karakashova-Sachkarska of the Aarhus organization, whose mission is to increase the availability of information pertaining to the environment, stated, “Institutions are not transparent enough even in the area of publishing public data in the field of the environment”.
In accordance with the memorandum of cooperation with the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information, Karakashova-Sachkarska indicated that the institutions involved in this process would be monitored.
“Over the past several years, the state has invested 57.2 million euros in the process of dispersed studies, and the number of high school students declined by 17.5% between the school years 2013/2014 and 2016/2017.
“These data were obtained through the right of free access to public information and clearly indicated how much significant information can be obtained through this process. This is why it is important for young people to be informed and actively use this right because only then will everyone together contribute to improving the conditions of this plan, which are very important to society”, said Misha Dokmanovich, a professor at the Faculty of Law who is also a member of the ISIE – Institute for Strategic Research and Education.
Petar Barlakovski, president of the Youth Education Forum, underlined that despite the improvements, institutions continue to hamper the process of acquiring public information by creating a bureaucratic maze and shifting responsibility.
Furthermore, Vlado Georgiev, a member of the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, stressed that the Law on Free Access to Public Information is a vital anti-corruption tool and that its implementation is crucial for combating corruption and bolstering the integrity of institutions.
One of the primary objectives of the integrity campaign conducted by the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information and the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) is to educate the public about the significance of reinforcing the integrity of institutions and utilizing the right to free access to public information in the combat against corruption.