Partners Serbia conducted the annual research on the openness and transparency of institutions in Serbia – Transparency is not a priority
The continuous political instability in the Western Balkan region influences the development of policies and the culture of openness of government. Although all the states of the region declare their commitment to improving openness and transparency through improved access to public authorities’ work, civil participation, digitalization, and improved access to services, progress is slow and unaccebtale.
The results show that Serbia has not made significant progress in improving the transparency of public authorities, neither according to the results of the regional monitoring nor according to the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Protection of Personal Data’s reports.
Among the key characteristics of open governance is transparency, that is, the availability of information and data needed for democratic control of public authorities. In addition to transparency, the key principles underlying open governance are accessibility, efficiency, and integrity. Guided by these principles, non-governmental organisations from the region created an index for measuring the openness of institutions, which contains over 100 indicators.
The overall index of openness of the executive authorities of the Republic of Serbia for 2022 is 43%, which means that the institutions in Serbia on average fulfil slightly less than half of all observed indicators.
Through this research, for the second year in a row, information was also collected about the amount of data public authorities mark as secret.
The reason this research is included is due to commonality of authorities using secrecy as an argument to conceal information of public importance. This year, we tried to determine how countries in the region supervise the implementation of laws related to data secrecy. The results are concerning and require immediate action. Although none of the countries from the region perform well in this area, the most alarming situation is in Serbia. In Serbia, the supervision of data secrecy is not carried out at all. In 2022 alone, more than 1,400,000 data sets were labelled secret.
Partners Serbia’s research shows that institutions generally maintain a resemblance of transparency by posting basic information on their websites, such as the basic authorities of the institution, names of the top public officials, and contact information. However, citizens remain deprived of crucial information about the work of these institutions, such as annual work programs and work reports. These documents are of key importance so that citizens can follow the progress and achievement of the public authorities’ set goals as well as the highest public official’s promises made through the media.
A special emphasis should also be placed on improving financial transparency. This should be done through the timely publication of the Annual budget, the budget for citizens, and publications of financial reports and plans of public authorities. The research shows that information regarding the budget is most difficult for the public to access.
In addition to above, it is necessary to improve transparency in the work of the Government through publishing information and documents related to Government sessions and public policy adoption processes. This way, citizens can follow and participate in the decision-making processes and gain insight into the competencies of public officials.
Regarding the transparency of the National Assembly, it is important to improve their website content. Their website should contain the members of the National Assembly voting records and if they regularly attend sessions. Due to the importance of the National Assembly’s legislative role, because it offers an opportunity for the MPs to impact the quality of the laws proposed by executive authorities, it is necessary to urgently start publishing amendments to bills online to allow the public the ability to follow and review the work of the National Assembly.
As part of this regional research, Partners Serbia conducted two analyses which are available on the website of Partners Serbia (Serbian language):
The openness of parliaments in Serbia: https://www.partners-serbia.org//public/news/otvorenost-parlamenata-u-srbiji-2023.pdf
The openness of the executive authorities in Serbia: https://www.partners-serbia.org//public/news/otvorenost-izvrsne-vlasti-u-srbiji-2023_(003).pdf
The analyses were made within the project “Using New Media to Promotion Government Transparency” which is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).