Agency: IDF undermines Law on FOI

The Investment and Development Fund refused to provide even simplest information on their work, at our request based on free access to information. IA requested, among other documents, decisions of the directors board, act on internal organisation and systematisation, list of one-off assistances to individuals and legal entities, information on sponsorships and donations, and such, discretionary spendings.

Access to all of these information was denied by IDF, citing ”business secret” provision of the Law, and a ”confidential relation” with clients that they must have by the Law on Financial Leasing, Factoring, Purchase of Receivables, Micro-Lending and Credit-Guarantee Operations.

This Law obliges IDF that all the information on its clients, which it obtain by providing financial services to them, must consider as business secrets.

Data on their own systematisation, decisions on sponsorships, donations, one-off assistances, as well as decisions of directors board – in no way can be covered by above mentioned provision of the Law, so we appealed to the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information on such decision of the IDF.

Agency annulled this decision of the IDF and provided broad explanation of doing so, in which it condemns the abuse of trade secrets in order to hide the most basic information about the work of the state-owned enterprise.

Agency says:

”with this approach, IDF undermines the essence of the Law on Free Access to Information, because in that case every document on IDF’s work should be considered as trade secret, which is a legal nonsense.”

In addition, IDF has not acted according to its obligation under the Law on FOA, which requires that information must be provided upon request even if some part of it is secret, by hiding parts that are secret and then sending it to those who requested access.

We are glad that the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information accepted our complaint and called things by their real names – superficial application of the institute of trade secret, referring to the Law which is not relevant for requested information and undermining Law on Free Access to Information.

IDF must, undoubtedly, be considered as state-owned enterprise, because by its form – it is, whatever its jurisdiction may be according the law. Therefore, basic information on its work, hiring and discretionary spending of funds must be available to the public, and not doing so is, as Agency says – undermining the law. IA is still waiting for a new decision of IDF in which they will act according to the decision of Agency.

IDF is not the only example of how state-owned enterprises are trying to hide information on their work, by using unjustified trade secrets or other excuses. Arbitrariness of this companies, in regard to information they provide to the public – must be stopped. We hope that this decision of the Agency will serve as example to other state owned companies, to realise that there are legal remedies against the intentions of abusing trade secrets in order to hide basic information.

Article is published in Daily News ”Vijesti”.

Institute Alternative is implementing project ”Strengthening Accountability and Transparency of Public Spendings in Montenegro during the COVID-19 crisis”, with the support of British Embassy in Podgorica.

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