Albanian institutions enhance the obstruction of the right to information

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Source/Author: Citizen Channel
Source/Photo: SJ

8 years after the enactment of the “Right to Information” law, the situation regarding its implementation remains worsened.

A report by the Respublica center has analyzed the level of response by institutions to information requests. “There seems to be no positive trend, in fact, it is seen as the worst situation in the last four years,” the report states.

Authorities provide partial responses when it comes to public procurement, concession contracts, or other matters of public interest.

8 years after the enactment of the law, “public authorities have sophisticated methods of obstructing access to sensitive information,” according to the Respublica report.

During the year 2022, complaints addressed to the Office of the Commissioner for the Right to Information increased compared to previous years. In 2022, 1032 cases were registered, and although the number of complaints increased, the report does not reflect the same number of decisions made by the commissioner.

“Based on the data, it appears that in recent years, the number of decisions given by the Commissioner has been increasing since 2019 when the lowest number of decisions was recorded. It should be noted that this number is still very low compared to the number of submitted complaints,” the report states.

The figures of the complaints indicate an increase in citizens’ awareness to exercise their right to information, while on the other hand, there is a refusal by institutions to provide information.

Regarding the response of institutions to initial requests in 2022, before the intervention of the commissioner, it is presented as the worst in the last four years.

Complete responses were given in 54% of the cases, partial responses in 18% of the cases, and non-response in 28% of the cases.

The year 2022 marked a deterioration in the situation with the return of responses from institutions. The report states that there is a decrease in cases where a complete response is returned, while partial responses remain unchanged. On the other hand, there is an increase in non-responses compared to the previous year.

This report has also analyzed the response time. Authorities tend to spend 15 calendar days for responding. However, compared to previous years, there is an improvement in the situation.

“Although this indicator has improved, the average is still beyond the legal deadline, while public authorities do not lack infrastructure or knowledge of the law to respond more quickly. This indicator does not include the response time for those cases continued with an appeal to the Commissioner,” the report further states.

On September 19th, the Law Commission approved amendments to the “Right to Information” law without debate.

The “Right to Information” law is being amended for the first time since its adoption in 2014. The amendments have been met with criticism from media actors and civil society.

This proposal for amendments to the law was initially put up for consultation by the Ministry of Justice. The law envisages several fundamental changes such as reducing fines for public authorities, increasing salaries for information coordinators, and introducing the concept of abusive or repetitive requests. However, this proposal was later amended after criticism from the media and civil society to withdraw the provision for “abusive requests.”

The proposed amendments to the law by the Ministry of Justice were criticized by field experts who assessed that abusive requests and fines were not the main problem of the old law.

According to the new amendments to the law, the commissioner, after investigation, can impose fines on the head of the institution or the official who has hindered the provision of information.

Blerjana Bino from the “Safe Journalists” network states that when it comes to legal changes, it is necessary to monitor how they will be implemented in practice.

She emphasizes that there have been some improvements in these changes following suggestions from civil society.

Blerjana Bino, Representative of the Network of Safe Journalists:
“The provision for abusive requests has been removed after many efforts and reactions from civil society organizations and media protection.

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Institucionet shqiptare sofistikojnë pengimin e së drejtës për informim