USAID Promotes a Culture of Openness, Transparency and Accountability in Serbia
September 27, 2019
Enabling citizens free access to government-held information is one of the most effective ways to uphold the values of transparency, openness, participation and accountability. Access to information discourages arbitrariness in governance and is crucial to a properly functioning, participatory democracy. The Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection and the Government Accountability Initiative (GAI) organized a forum citizens’ rights to have free access to information to mark Right to Know Week (September 23-29, 2019).
The Forum, entitled “A Culture of Openness, Transparency and Accountability” engaged Serbian civil society organizations and representatives of media in a dialogue on citizens’ rights to access information of public importance, the current legal framework and operating environment. The need for and possible opportunities for greater and easier access to government information in the Republic of Serbia were identified.
Important discussions were held around changes to the draft Law on Free Access to Information as proposed by the government. A number of previously proposed amendments, such as the exclusion of state-owned companies from the Law and the possibility to file complaints against the Commissioner’s decisions have been omitted from the latest draft. The participants concluded that the provisions on partial exemption of state companies, as well as the dismissal of the Commissioner without clear criteria by the National Assembly provisions should be further considered.
Forum participants supported the Commissioner’s recommendation to expand the independent oversight institution’s authority to allow it to inspect public bodies compliance with the Law and to initiate misdemeanor proceedings for breaches of the Law. Participants also agreed on the necessity to provide mechanisms for faster and easier access to government-held information, and to ensure transparency and public debate as the draft Law is finalized.