Fight for the right of the public in Montenegro to know still lasts

Prior to the International Right to Know Day – 28 September, the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) points out that public sector bodies in Montenegro still lack the transparency, and that the Free Access to Information Law is applied in a selective manner.

Namely, state bodies still show no willingness when publishing the data of public interest, and they also avoid submitting the information at the request of stakeholders, thereby directly violating the provisions of the Free Access to Information Law. Transparency is precisely one of the prerequisites of the rule of law, the accountable authorities and effective fight against the corruption. By restricting the access to information, state bodies which act in this manner, represent the ones which directly prevent the democratisation of Montenegrin society.

This problem was also recognised within relevant international reports. Thus, Montenegro Progress report for 2014 states that “It is necessary to secure the transparency and accountability in the work of public institutions and officials. Finding the right balance between the right to free access to information and the protection of personal data still remains a challenge”.

Additionally, the Free Access to Information Law has a series of flaws and even though they were identified, nothing was done in order to improve them, especially in the part of the sanctions, administrative procedures during the execution of administrative act, as well as in determining the adequate compensations of costs of procedures which often tend to reach surreal figures which undermines the essence of the Law.

Statistics-wise, according to the Report on the work of Agency for 2013, 754 cases were documented, all relating to the inability of citizens to access the information. Council of Agency solved every case, and 721 of them were discharged. Out of that figure, 552 complaints were adopted, 67 were rejected, while 10 were partially adopted. In 92 cases, the procedure was suspended with the conclusion due to the withdrawal of the complainant, because the first instance body submitted the required information in the meantime. Information for 2014 is not available at the Agency’s website, but public indication by the NGO and media regarding the higher level of non-transparency of state bodies is of notion.

According to the CCE experience, based on the requests for free access to information, ministries which showed the highest level of lack of transparency during this year were: Ministry of Finances, Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Ministry of Transport and Maritime Affairs, Ministry of Economy. In the case of local self-governments, capital Podgorica is traditionally the one with the highest level of non-transparency, followed by the municipalities of Bijelo Polje, Budva, Nikšić, Kolašin.

International Right to Know Day was established in 2002, at the joint meeting of representatives of mainly non-governmental organisations from Sofia, Bulgaria. Today, this date is marked throughout the world with the aim of promoting the right to free access to information, as one of the basic human rights, but also to motivate citizens to use their right, and the authorities to be more transparent in their work.

Mira Popović, Programme Associate