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    • Changes in law and education are crucial for improving access to information of public importance

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    • Date: 06 February 2014
      It is necessary to change the Law on free access to information of public importance by tightening sanctions and increasing the powers of the Commissioner, and for better implementation of the law it must be organized trainings for employees responsible for access to information, it is concluded during the presentation of the publication „Free access to information of public importance - theory and practice".

      About 50 representatives of state institutions, civil society, media and diplomats attended the conference
      About 50 representatives of state institutions, civil society, media and diplomats attended the conference

      „The right to access information of public importance in Serbia is guaranteed by the Constitution and further regulated by the law which is adopted in 2004. With all the interventions and improvements, this Law is declared for the best globally, but the problem is its implementation and enforcement“, said Executive Director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy Predrag Petrovic at the conference held on 6 February 2014 in the Media Center.

      BCBP researcher Marko Milošević presented how government bodies apply the Law on free access to information of public importance. He pointed out that public companies often do not respond to requests for information in relation to local governments and state bodies. Milosevic pointed out the existence of a "forest of rules" that regulate area of free access to information of public importance.

      "There are 29 laws and bylaws governing this area which prevent high-quality and efficient work of government institutions in providing information of public importance. All of this should be taken into account when creating the new law, but that is only the first step in its efficient implementation. In order to the effectively enforce Law on free access to information it is necessary to conduct trainings for the employes. Research has shown that local governments consider that they do not have enough adequately trained staff to achieve quality law enforcement", said Milosevic.

      Deputy Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection Stanojla Mandic pointed out that the Commissioner, since it started to work in 2005, solved more than 20,000 cases on appeals for access to information of public importance, and that the number of complaints is rising.

      „Last year, there were 3,300 complaints for access to information, which is 40% higher than in 2012. The cause of this increase is not known - whether government bodies less correspond or the citizens are more complaining. The success of the Commissioner’s work is about 90%, but it is worrying that the number of unexecuted decisions which refers to the state and public companies is very high, around 77%“, said Stanojla Mandic.

      Ivana Jeremic from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Serbia (CINS) points that requests for public information from non-governmental organizations are more eagerly responded than those that come from citizens.

      „The percent of response of the state bodies, local governments and public companies was greater if the queries were sent by non-governmental organizations. The reason for this could be found in the greater influence of non-governmental and other organizations and their ability to pressure. Responses to requests usually arrive within 15 days, but often thay are not complete due to lack of precise demands of citizens, redundancy of documents and incompetence of people who act according to the demands“, said Jeremic.

      The event in the Media Center was attended by about 50 participants and after the opening speeches the audience asked a series of questions about what is considered as a violation of the right to access to public information, what kind of information is included in this category, as well as what prevents the efficient work of the Commissioner. Among the participants were representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Culture and Information, the National Employment Service, a great number of representatives of civil society organizations, the Embassy of France and Slovakia, international organizations and the media.

      Findings of the research conducted by the BCSP and CINS, as well as recommendations for improving access to information of importance, are presented in publication „Free Access to Information of Public Importance: Theory and Practice". Research and publication are products of the project, which is financially supported by the Fund for an Open Society Serbia under the "Transparency, accountability and public integrity" program.
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