Why are the public sector bodies applying unevenly the Law on Free Access to Information?

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) indicates that the Law on Free Access to Information is still not being perceived as an obligatory legal act by all public sector bodies, which consequently leads to uneven application of the same, but also to endangerment of the right of public to receive information of public importance.

Through the project “Equal opportunities for all media in Montenegro?”, a research aimed to determine how much funds is being allocated from the Budget on the basis of the provision of services, specialized services or on other grounds and how much financial resources is being paid to media, agencies for public relations, production companies and agencies for public opinion research, the CCE has sent requests for access to information to 251 public sector bodies. The request was answered positively by 169 public sector bodies, i.e. 69.64%. Of this number, 98 bodies had costs on some of the grounds mentioned above and the same amounted to € 2,196,739.00 (data submitted to the CCE).

It is evident that, even after several years of formal application of this Law, there is still no clear standard, and due to that there often exist examples of diametrically opposite behavior of public sector bodies in relation to the identical request, and there is also a noticeable difference in quality of submitted answers and procedure costs. All complaints filed by CCE to the Agency for Protection of Personal Data and Free Access to Information have been adopted, but decisions of this Agency have in a large number of cases remained unperformed, since there is no efficient method stipulated by the Law that would ensure execution of the decision of the Agency for Protection of Personal Data and Free Access to Information. Answers that arrived within 1 day were mostly from those bodies which did not have costs by any of the aforementioned grounds, while the average waiting time for all the answers was 180 days. The longest awaited answers were those from the following public sector bodies:

1. Municipality of Bijelo Polje – 292 days
2. Coastal Zone Management – 106 days
3. Volleyball Association – 63 days
4. Ministry of Health – 49 days
5. Ministry of Maritime Affairs – 49 days
The white list” of ministries and bodies which answered in the shortest notice possible, during this research is:
1. Ministry of Education and Sports
2. Ministry for Human and Minority Rights
3. Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare
4. Ministry of Culture
5. Ministry of the Interior
6. Ministry of Justice
Ministry, which proved to be the most prompt, in the framework of this research, both in terms of meeting deadlines as well as the integrity of documents, is the Ministry of Defence.

Administrations have been answering in most cases in a timely manner, as well as funds. When it comes to judiciary, the most prompt was the Supreme Court, which answered in 1 day, but generally, the judiciary, according to data obtained by CCE, had no costs on these grounds. Prompt was also the Parliament of Montenegro and the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms, both of which had costs on these grounds.

The „black list“ that contains non-transparent public sector bodies is led by:
1. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (the only ministry that has not provided the requested data!)
2. Capital City of Podgorica (the only local self-government that has not provided data!)
3. University of Montenegro
4. Montenegrin Investment Promotion Agency
5. Agency for Property Bar
6. Handball Association of Montenegro
7. Basketball Association of Montenegro
8. Athletic Association of Montenegro
9. …

Public companies, however, are leading when it comes to inefficiency but also the failure to comply with the Law on Free Access to Information. Generally quickly in their response were those who did not have any costs, and from among significant advertisers that were identified by the CCE answers were received from the Coastal Zone Management, Montenegrin Electric Enterprise, Monteput, Hemomont, Ulcinj Riviera…. Answers never arrived from a number of major advertisers, such as Airports of Montenegro, and the question remains why taxpayers’ money is being spent in this manner by someone who is effectively a monopolist. The situation is similar with the Post of Montenegro, Railway Infrastructure of Montenegro, Port of Kotor, etc.

CCE believes that it is important to highlight those who have opted for violation of the Law, concealing information of public interest, and which were identified as those who invest in the media and related subjects. The fact that some of the obligators of the Law on Free Access to Information refuse to provide information raises suspicion that there is a serious reason due to which there is a deliberate violation of this Law, namely the assessment that someone from that body will have more damage if the information is published than if the Law is violated.

Mira Popović, Programme Associate