Lack of proactive transparency of institutions – Difficult access to information of public importance
On September 27, Partners Serbia, with the organization Transparency Serbia, marked the International Day for Universal Access to Information by organizing the conference “Transparency on the Agenda – Access to Information, the Fight against Corruption, and the Openness of the Judiciary”, on the premises of the Open Society Foundation Serbia in Belgrade.
In the first panel, the conversation was devoted to the importance of transparency for preventing and fighting corruption. The event was opened by Ana Toskić Cvetinović, the executive director of Partners Serbia. She briefly presented the situation regarding access to information. She discussed Constitutional reform, the adoption of judicial laws, and changes to the strategic framework.
Regarding the implementation of the amended Law of Access to Information, the main impression of Nemanja Nenadić from Transparency Serbia was that the situation has not improved as much as they had hoped and that the silence of the government is very common.
Slavoljupka Pavlović from the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection pointed out to the participants that the right to access information has previously been very difficult to achieve without the intervention of the Commissioner. After the Commissioner appeals, the requesters are able to access the information.
Mila Josifovska Danilovska from the Metamorphosis Foundation, North Macedonia, gave an overview of the EU integration process impact on government transparency in Western Balkan countries. Her conclusion is that all the countries are declaratively open and transparent, but the situation in practice is affected by political instability and political will.
Andrija Mladenović, from the Centre for European Policies, presented the main problems with the transparency of public procurements regarding clientelism, tender procedures, conflicts of interest, and changes to contracts in the implementation phase, where the most fraud can occur.
The panel about the importance of transparency in the judiciary for access to justice and strengthening citizens’ trust in the work of the judiciary was opened by Sofija Mandić from CEPRIS, who also moderated the event. She pointed out that the battle for the rule of law is fought primarily in the area of access to information.
Kristina Kalajdžić, from Partners Serbia, referred to transparency in the field of justice. Her conclusion was that the institutions are not proactive in publishing information. The courts and prosecutors' offices rarely publish news or information about ongoing investigations or court proceedings, and there is complete absence of news conferences on cases in which the public is justifiably interested. She emphasized that leakage of information is very noticeable, especially to tabloid media.
Predrag Milovanović, a member of the High Council of Prosecutors, presented how employees in the prosecutor’s office view their relationship with the public. Now, meetings of the High Council of Prosecutor are public through live broadcasts on the website. This broadcasting was included in the Rules of Procedure and became a legal category, which is a significant shift in practice.
Bojana Jovanović, from KRIK, pointed out that there is no proactive transparency, apart from announcements made by courts. It is very rare that anyone from the judiciary agrees to an interview with investigative media. Information does not leak; instead, it is put out with the clear intention of producing a certain effect. Political influence is also quite noticeable in the judiciary. It influences which cases will be discussed and which are going to be pushed under the carpet and hidden.
Transparency Serbia’s Robert Sepi referred to the proceedings in the administrative court and what should be improved in order to make the judiciary more transparent. There are problems with authorities whose decisions cannot be appealed to the Commissioner. There were 48 lawsuits filed against these seven bodies in the Administrative court. he Supreme court follows behind with the second most lawsuits, clearly demonstrating that the judicial bodies are not as transparent as they should be.
The panelists also discussed judicial reform and how citizens can influence that process. Kristina Kalajdžić stated that the civil sector and citizens should not be the ones who convince the highest judicial authorities to be transparent. Instead, these authorities should be leading this change. The civil sector was active in the process of passing new judicial laws; however, transparency was not included in the judiciary's reforms. The High Council of the Judiciary and the High Council of the Prosecutor’s Office have already passed two internal acts. One decided to regulate and prescribe mandatory video broadcasting of sessions, while the High Council of the Judiciary has still not decided on that step. Predrag Milovanović agrees that the High Council of the Judiciary and the High Council of the Prosecutor’s Office are the instigators of further judicial reform and pointed out that there are individuals within the institutions that are fighting for the responsible work of public authorities. Bojana Jovanović stated that the judges and prosecutors should be pushed out of their comfort zones and that the names of judges and acting judges in specific cases should be published because they have a responsibility for what they do. She believes that journalists are an important zone between the judiciary and the citizens themselves.