Open sessions and/or open government?

In the debate over the decision of the 44th Government to stop the practice of broadcasting its sessions, introduced by the previous 43rd Government, the focus often shifts away from fundamentally important issues related to the transparency of the government’s work.

Numerous documents from the government’s sessions and its working bodies should be disclosed, which is a genuine guarantee of openness, significantly more than just opening the session flow to the public. Above all, it is necessary to amend the Decision on the Publication of Materials from Government Sessions, a decade-old and ripe for an update, to include the following:

  • First and foremost, the agenda of government sessions must be published in its entirety, including the names of materials marked with a level of confidentiality. Citizens should know what the government discussed and decided, even in the case of confidential materials, at least through the document titles. In the previous work during the terms of the 42nd and 43rd Governments, around 5% of all agenda items were entirely hidden – the names of these items were not disclosed, parts were deleted from the minutes, and the public part of the session ended before the government members discussed those items. Unfortunately, the 44th Government has already started this practice.
  • It is also important that documents are published regardless of the session format (electronic session, “session without holding a session”). This is particularly crucial because, during the term of the 42nd government, there were twice as many electronic sessions as regular ones (148 electronic, 67 standard), and documentation from electronic sessions was rarely published.
  • The public needs to have basic information about the work of the four permanent working bodies of the government, which are currently entirely closed. Our struggle to find out how the commission of Duško Marković’s government distributed the budget reserve ended with the revelation that all documentation was destroyed and the then GSV did not allow us access even to basic information.

Furthermore, the openness of the government is crucially influenced by the Government Secretariat, which handles requests for access to information. This government center has long been one of the least transparent institutions, and it was only in the term of the previous government that it finally began to respond to requests and launched its website. It would be important for this practice to continue.

When these conditions are met, it will be less important whether government sessions are open to the public or not. The ability for journalists to ask questions and seek further explanations after the session is also a useful tool for openness. Public government sessions can sometimes turn into a show for the public and be contrary to substantive openness.

We appealed to the need to work on these issues during the term of the 42nd Government to the then Government Secretariat and were rejected. During the term of the 43rd Government, we began work on introducing certain provisions into the draft Law on the Government, and we will continue this work.


Marko Sošić 

Part of the text was originally published in the daily newspaper “Vijesti”

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