The Government has illegally classified and put under the designation “restricted” the key document on the position of public finances at the local level, thus concealing the data regarding the number of employees in municipalities.
We requested from the Government the “Information on the position of public finances at the local level”. This document was adopted in July 2015 but was not published on the website of the Government. We received the decision of the Ministry of Finance stating that the document is classified and put under the designation “restricted” in accordance with the legal provision allowing to state authorities to restrict access to information or part of information “if it is in the interest of security, defense, foreign, monetary and economic policy of Montenegro”.
This document does not only contain financial data on the position of local finances, unpaid obligations, outstanding debt, etc. It also includes the most relevant data on the number of employees in local self-governments, including public enterprises and institutions, and most likely the data on their incomes, as well. Although the data of this type was previously published by the Government, the newest document is not made available on its website. Even the Ministry of Interior does not refer to this document when presenting information on the rationalization of the number of employees in local self-governments in the Draft Public Administration Reform Strategy but presents outdated and inaccurate data from the Report on the implementation of the Plan of internal reorganization of the public sector.
How would making this Information available “significantly undermine” the interests of security, defense, foreign, monetary and economic policy of Montenegro is the question to which we do not have a logical answer, neither can they have one in the Government. The sole interest that may be affected by publishing this document is the political interest of certain parties whose representatives are heads of local self-governments because the disclosure of this data would show the extent of new employments and its impact on local budgets.
There is a prevailing public interest to disclose information that overrules all intentions of the Government in this case. The Law on Free Access to Information prescribes mandatory publication of any information that indicates to “corruption, failure to comply with the law, illegal use of public funds, and abuse of power by public officials”, which is the case with the Information on the position of public finances at the local level.
We must not consent to the most basic information on the state of play in local self-governments being concealed. Institute Alternative will initiate an administrative dispute in order to annul this decision and publish the Information, but we urge the Ministry of Finance and the Government to do this even earlier and to refrain from violation of the Law on Free Access to Information.
Public Policy Researcher