CEAS study: Online access to public information in Serbia lags
News Source: Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, Serbia
Only 25 percent of Serbian governmental ministries published their annual budget online in 2015, and only 37.5 percent did so for their public procurement plans, according to the results of a Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) report compiled for a PASOS project on open government.
And less than 19 percent of the ministries published online a list of all public procurement contracts, the study found. The report was conducted for Advocacy for Open Government, an EU-funded PASOS project to encourage governments in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia to become more transparent.
“When it comes to public procurement, what is interesting is that only three ministries published a list of all concluded contracts, while 12 ministries published the contracts themselves,” the report states. “This makes the process of civilian oversight of ministries difficult, given the fact that by merely reviewing the content of ministry websites which do publish (some) data, it is still unclear whether, for example, the individual contracts that are published are all contracts that are concluded, as there is not integral list to compare this against.”
Results of the CEAS research are part of a comparative study on the level of government transparency in the countries covered in the project. Cross-referencing detailed results provide a basis for “scorecards” that rank the countries on the basis of government openness, according to the stated parameters. Assessment of the ease of access to public information as well as the level of their comprehensiveness is ranked on a scale from -2 (worst) to 3 (best).
The research was carried out September-October 2015, and is based on analyzing the information available on the websites of state institutions and political parties who were in the Serbian parliament. The aim of the research is to highlight the extent to which information on the basic functioning of these actors is accessible for citizens using the Internet as their main source of information, as well as the extent of ease of access and comprehensiveness of this information (if published online).
The fields included within the research are the basics of fiscal transparency, access to information of public importance, parliamentary openness and oversight and activities directly related to implementation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Serbia is a member of the OGP, a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
The report is also critical of the government’s level of response to requests for public records release requests, and questions the findings of other NGOs that have analyzed freedom of information in Serbia.
“Serbia is ranked first according to the global list on right-to-information put together by Access Info Europe from Spain and the Center for Law and Democracy from Canada, based on the existing normative framework,” the report states. “However, the situation in practice does not mirror these findings.
“Based on the data available within the Report on Implementation of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection for 2014, the Commissioner’s Office received 5,799 requests for access to information, while state institutions acted upon the request of the Commissioner in full in 3,739 cases and did not act at all on 255 cases.” It was unclear from a commissioner report on information requests what the status was of the other 1,805 requests.
The CEAS study also found that:
- The Serbian Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure was the only ministry to publish a report on its work for the previous year.
- 37.5 percent of ministries have a person designated for dealing with freedom-of-information matters.
- The website of the country’s parliament lacks key information about how legislation is proceeding, does not provide complete records of public hearings, and makes information about oversight difficult to find.
- The Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, which is in charge of the government’s OGP Action Plan, failed to publish a list of all recommendations and suggestions received on the plan, nor were explanations offered on why certain measures have been rejected or provided. In addition, the government has not launched a pledged media campaign promoting the principles and standards of the OGP.