Information about the work of the government still out of reach

Montenegro has not yet set up an efficient system that would guarantee access to information and transparency and openness of public administration, and the government’s unwillingness to do so is a cause for concern.

Today marks the International Day for Universal Access to Information, which Montenegro awaits without having adopted the necessary amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information and thereby violating on daily basis the right of the public to know what certain parts of the government are doing.

The policy of openness and transparency in Montenegro is still reliant on the good will of the authorities, a situation that leaves a lot to be desired. Although it is a legal requirement to proactively publish information on the work of public administration, in reality, this activity gets treated as optional, as we do not have an efficient checks and balances system, and therefore non-compliance with the law triggers no liability.

The three previous governments promised to improve the Law on Free Access to Information, but this has not yet been done despite the pleas coming from the civil sector, the media, and the international community. The government passed a new proposal for the law back in March, but it is still pending before the parliament. The Proposal has envisaged major improvements compared to the law in force, albeit along with an unjustified restricting of access to security intelligence.

We are recalling that the 2017 amendments curbed the right to free access to information, and the law actually serves to narrow the scope for exercising supervision in corruption-sensitive areas.

A more progressive government would have been expected to lift these problematic restrictions from access to information in the past six years, especially when it comes to trade or tax secrets. However, all of previous attempts to launch a comprehensive reform in the area of openness and transparency have failed – no government and parliamentary majority have “made up their mind” that our country needs to have good laws and strategies that would promote a culture of openness and transparency and ensure the transparent conduct of those entrusted to lead the institutions”.

Some of the most basic information about the functioning of the government remain unknown to the Montenegrin public, including those on the exact number of people working in the public administration, let alone some details about how budget funds are spent. Despite the political changes, no major improvement has been observed in practice, and as incredible as it may sound, we still have to keep convincing the authorities that we have the right to know how citizens’ money is being spent.

The decision-making process is insufficiently transparent and inclusive. Although government sessions are finally being streamed live, this does not guarantee that the public will gain insight into all of the activities and decisions taken by the government. The arbitrariness with which authorities exert their powers to declare documents and data as classified is particularly problematic, and it is extremely difficult for the public to keep track of whether the law is being complied with. State affairs are a public matter and those in power are obliged to provide citizens with all the information about how they plan to run the state and with which funds. In order for democracy to function, we need to have complete and timely information about the work of the government, which is why it is of key importance to ensure an effective and unhindered exercise of the right to free access to information.

Milena Gvozdenovic

Deputy Executive Director