BELGRADE, 24.02.2017. – The amount of public money paid to news agency Tanjug for a few months in 2016, for now, remains a mystery. The response of the Treasury to this question concluded that the calculation is so complicated and difficult and would lead the entire country to a halt that it would have far-reaching consequences for the country’s economy.
Late last year, Istinomer portal requested the information from the Ministry of Finance Treasury about all direct and indirect budget users’ payments to the accounts of news agency Tanjug in the period May – October 2016 in order to determine whether Tanjug continues to survive thanks to the “state aid”. Just a few months earlier we had requested and received the data in the same manner. However, this time our request was rejected with a string, to put it mildly, problematic arguments.
In its response to the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, to which Istinomer complained, the Treasury stated that search for such data in their databases could even jeopardize the country’s economy.
The response states that the execution of the Istinomer request “having in mind its magnitude, complexity, structure and content, would jeopardize the technical processes and lead to (its) inability to perform tasks related to the execution of the state budget, budget accounting and reporting, public payments and other duties of state finances, which would result in the fall of performance of the system, lead to overload of the system and jeopardise the security of information system of public finances management and result in the reduction of the country’s ability to manage the economic processes in the country.”
To repeat, Istinomer had sent exactly the same request in May 2016 and received the information without any problem – it seems that the Serbian economy in that time survived.
The Treasury quoted the article 13 of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, and concludes that Istinomer is abusing free access to information with this request.
Abuse of Free Access to Information of Public Importance
A public authority shall not allow an applicant to exercise the right to access information of public importance if the applicant is abusing the rights to access information of public importance, in particular where a request is unreasonable, frequent, where an applicant repeatedly requires the same information or information already obtained, or when too much information is requested.
While Istinomer is abusing free access to information that should be public, the public does not know how is Tanjug financed, does it still receives funds from various ministries, public enterprises, and other budget users.
After complaints by Istinomer, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance ordered the Ministry of Finance to provide us with the requested information within five days.
While we wait for answers, we cannot help but wonder how it is possible that the same institution responds differently to the same request, one time deliver data and next time doesn’t deliver. We cannot help but wonder whether only data about the “late” Tanjug – which by the Government’s decision should have been shut more than a year ago – is concealed, or this has become a standard practice, since more colleagues from Istinomer and other media asked the various data, but they have been denied information with a similar excuse.
And finally, we cannot help but wonder whether Serbian system is so fragile that it can collapse by just one ordinary request for free access to information of public importance.