Although the Ministry of Public Administration and Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information claim that the ministries proactively publish over 90 percent of the information required by the Law on Free Access to Information, the Institute Alternative’s findings show that it is not so.
According to the Law on Free Access to Information, public administration bodies have an obligation to regularly publish relevant information on their websites, such as a guides on access to information, programs and work plans, contracts, lists of public officials including lists with their salaries, information that is available upon approved request.
The number of over 90 percent of proactively published information by ministries, cited by the Ministry of Public Administration in the latest Public Administration Reform Report, as well as by the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information in their 2018 report, is contradictory.
While performing supervision and control in most of the Montenegrin ministries, the Agency itself have ordered them to correct the irregularities and publish the updated guides on free access to information, programs and work plans, public registries and records, lists of civil servants and state employees, as well as to establish clear links leading to the mentioned information. Agency has found 12 irregularities on website of Ministry of Transport and Maritime Affairs during the inspection, while in the Ministry of Economy the Agency ordered the correction of 11 irregularities.
Although 12 ministries had a deadline of 15 days to correct identified irregularities, the Agency did not check whether they did it. Therefore, it is unclear did the Agency managed to calculate such high percentage of proactively published information. Specifically, from response to our request for free access to information, we concluded that during 2018 and the first five months of 2019 there were no new inspections in ministries.
Furthermore, the IA found that even in June 2019 three ministries did not published programs and work plans for the current year (ministries of Finance, Sustainable Development and Tourism and Culture). Ministry of Economy did not have list of civil servants and state employees published at all, while four ministries did not update this information in 2019 (ministries of Justice, Science, Sustainable Development and Tourism and Defense). Although ministries are not more proactive regarding publishing lists of public officials with their salaries than they were before, three ministries (ministries of Education, Sustainable Development and Tourism and Science) did not have this information updated in June 2019.
The credibility and thoroughness of the Agency’s inspections is also questioned. For example, Agency determined that the Ministry of Sport and Youth and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have published information to which access was granted in 2018. However, we have found that these ministries have only published decision granting access to information but not the information which is relevant to citizens. Therefore, the obviously Agency did not perform detailed inspection to determine whether the decisions contain the information itself.
It is particularly unclear on which basis how did the Agency determined that the ministries have published contracts and other individual acts on the use of public funds, nor what mechanisms were used to determine the proactive publishing of these financial information which are of outmost importance for the citizens. Agency has noted that Ministry of Transport and Maritime Affairs that did not publish these information on the use of public money, but it is unclear on how did the Agency determine that the information published by other ministries fully corresponds to all their concluded acts on the use of public funds.
The IA team has previously warned that it is behind the alleged high percentage of proactively published information by ministries. Unfoundedness of these allegations show the Agency’s indifference as a key oversight body in this area and its reluctance to reverse the trend of denying citizens the right to access key information on the work of the administration that is supposed to serve them.
In order to increase the availability of information relevant to citizens, we believe that the Agency must perform more detailed inspections and more often so in order to identify if the irregularities have been corrected. Also, since the ministries have only small part of information in the public sector and there is very low level of the information published at the local level, annual controls must cover all municipalities, as well as more of other types of public bodies.
We recall that some state-owned enterprises have declared some of their information as business secret including some of the information that should have been proactively disclosed, such as salaries of the employees, decisions by governing bodies and contracts.
Within the project ‘’FAR-Evidence for Better Administration Reform’’, the IA will continue to monitor the proactive publishing of information both at central and local level. The project is implemented with the support of the European Union, within the sector budget support for public administration reform in Montenegro. The aim of the project is to contribute to establishment of a more transparent, efficient and service-oriented public administration in Montenegro, with the specific aim of strengthening the monitoring of the implementation of key areas of the Public Administration Reform Strategy in Montenegro 2016-2020.