Source: DanasRodoljub Sabic, Commissioner for Information of Public Importance
Executive government has not enforced a single Commissioner's decision for three years. Security Information Agency and the Ministry of Infrastructure the least open for cooperation. Premises sufficient for seven officers.
Belgrade - Since the institution of The Commissioner for Information was founded to this day, almost 5,000 cases have been registered, and more than 4,000, of which some were very delicate and complicated, have already been solved - says Rodoljub Sabic, Commissioner for Information, in his interview for Danas.
- The famous concession agreement for the Horgoa-Pozega highway attracted the most publicity. Much has been written and said also about cases such as the one in Putevi Srbije, involving denial of access to the documents to the public which later confirmed theft at highway toll booths, or involving official note about the conversation between Ulemek and Jocic and Bulatovic at the night when Ulemek was arrested, involving embezzlement in the pupils dormitory in Belgrade, which was disclosed by a boy with the help of the documents which he obtained according to the Law on Free Access to Information, then several cases of denying information on privatization, public procurements etc. - Mr. Sabic highlighted some of the most interesting cases from his practice so far.
- How often have institutions refused to act on your orders, i.e. how often does it happen that a requester of information does not receive answer even after your intervention?
- In about two thirds of all cases, right after the first intervention of the Commissioner, without the need for formal decision, the government bodies give information they previously denied. In the remaining cases, a decision, or a formal order must be passed in order to receive requested information from a government body. This order is binding under the law. And in most cases government bodies act according to it. However, there are cases when they fail to act according to it, although it is actually deliberate violation of the law. The number of such cases is not too large, it varies between 100 and 200, which really does not seem much compared to the number of about 5,000 cases. However, I think that, as a matter of principle, any failure to act pursuant to an order, i.e. deliberate violation of the law by a government body, always has huge implications. The problem here is that the Commissioner does not have legal or actual possibilities to enforce his decisions and those who have those possibilities do not do it. Under the law, the Government must, where necessary, provide for the enforcement of the Commissioner's decisions. Unfortunately, in the past 3 years the Government has not done this in a single instance when it was requested by someone in whose favour the Commissioner passed a decision which was not enforced. I think it is high time for this to change, because the relation of the Government to this obligation so far, regardless of the motives, has been an indirect call for violating the law.
- Who requests your help most often?
- Complaints are submitted by everyone - citizens, journalists, media, non-governmental organizations, political parties, even the government bodies, including the highest ones. The fact that even the Administrative Committee of the National Assembly requested help several times says much about the situation in the field of access to information, and about many other things as well. Citizens complain the most, more often than all the others together.
- With which institutions citizens have the most problems, who is the least open for cooperation?
- I wrote about that, among other things, in all three annual reports, which I submitted to the National Assembly according to the law. Security Information Agency and the Ministry of Infrastructure (Capital Investment) probably stood out as the two most drastic examples in a negative sense. I recently spoke to the new Director of the Security Information Agency and the new Minister of Infrastructure, with the intent of changing something there. I hope there will be changes, we'll see.
- You have said on a number of occasions that the Commissioner's Office needs more people. Was it always like that or does your workload increase as time passes?
- At the very beginning, the Commissioner for Information had absolutely no premises at his disposal. Later he got premises in which he still works. In those premises only seven people can be accommodated, which is one third of the number of associates envisaged by the instrument on systematization approved by the National Assembly. It is unbelievable that even three years were not enough for the competent Government services to provide adequate premises. A particular problem is the fact that the Government, although it is familiar with those circumstances, exactly proposes the Law on Personal Data Protection which would bring new obligations and much more complex and voluminous work than the one he already performs. The new law should enter into force on 1 January 2009. I already warned that it was irresponsible to believe that it was possible to provide its quality implementation in current circumstances.
- How many people in Serbia, particularly in provincial regions, are familiar with the work of the Commissioner for Information?
- In the beginning, three and a half years ago, the Commissioner was a kind of an unheard-of "wonder" for many people. It is considerably different today. The best indicator of this is the large and constantly growing number of cases. Quality work of my associates contributed to the affirmation of the institution in the first place, but the media which covered our work contributed as well, and even recognitions and formal awards, such as those from the Association of Journalists of Serbia or OSCE Mission to Serbia.
- Do you expect that the Government will adopt the amendments and amend the Personal Data Protection Bill? Was such text of the Bill written in ill faith, or are those just accidental omissions?
- I talked about the need for submission of amendment to Ombudsman Saaa Jankovi. He will, acting preventively on the human rights protection, submit adequate amendments. I sincerely hope that the Government will accept them or submit its own, similar or the same. As regards motives for some controversial arrangements, I do not like to speculate, but I always rather think it is an omission and not ill intent.