New freedom of information law proposed in North Macedonia
The right to freedom of information (FOI) is protected by law in North Macedonia since 2006. In theory, the law complies with international standards and creates a solid basis for establishing a system to protect this right. However, the practice during the past 12 years has shown legal gaps, inconvenient practices, and inefficiency of the national authority at implementing the law.
The urgent reform priorities set by the European Union in 2015 as preconditions for North Macedonia accession to the EU specifically require that the government fundamentally improves access to information. Some improvements were made, forcing active transparency by declassifying and publishing documents online, and allowing access to data on spending of public money.
Meanwhile, the Commission for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information (KOMSPI) that is in charge of monitoring the implementation of the law, did not function. A huge backlog of unresolved complaints is waiting for completion, because the parliament failed to appoint new commissioners and replenish its ranks.
In December 2017, an initiative for a new FOI law was launched. After a year and a half, Macedonian citizens finally received the proposed text of the new law.
EDRi member Foundation for Internet and Society – Metamorphosis endorses the process of passing the new Law on Free Access to Public Information, which would provide more efficient protection of the fundamental right to access information.
With regard to specific provisions of the proposed text, Metamorphosis suggests the following:
- Article 1, paragraph 1: The defining of political parties as public information holders in terms of income and expenditures is one of the key positive novelties of the Law on Free Access to Public Information. Metamorphosis believes that the funding of political parties should be considered public information to increase the transparency regarding the spending of public money on the part of the political parties.
- Article 3, paragraph 1, indent 7: The draft text attempts to define cases where the access to information would be of public interest by establishing a fixed list of criteria. Metamorphosis does not recommend the use of a restricted list to define public interest since a narrow definition bears the risk of limiting the exercise of the irght to access information. To avoid such limited definition, we suggest to introduce a mandatory injury test to assess the existence or not of public interest when an information is being requested, without being defined by law.
- Article 10. Metamorphosis deems the definition of public information detailed and providing legal certainty for public information holders. In addition, apart from the scale of the information, its availability on websites shall contribute to reducing the number of requests for access, thereby giving the opportunity to holders to be more efficient as regards the full implementation of the law.
- Article 21, paragraph 1: Shortening the deadline by which holders need to respond to a request from 30 to 20 days is a change Metamorphosis believes will not drastically contribute to a better implementation of the law, especially when journalists request public information. Additionally, in its work plan 2017-2022, the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia states it will implement the open government concept in full to further increase transparency. It will propose amendments for halving the deadline for response to public information requests from 30 to 15 days as it was recommended in the plan for Open Government Partnership.
- Article 31: Metamorphosis deems positive the change of the status of the authority responsible for implementing the Law on Free Access to Public Information, from a commission, as a collective body, to an agency, as an independent body, especially when it comes to leading a complaint procedure.
The positions listed above are defined following a public debate held in the Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia. At the moment, the Parliament is working on amendments and the final text is expected to be given to the Members of the Parliament soon.
Urgent Reform Priorities for Macedonia, European Commission, Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/urgent_reform_priorities_en.pdf
Final report from the monitoring of the implementation of the reform priorities in the field of media for the period 01.07.2017 – 30.9.2018
Flooded with 500 complaints, Commission for Free Access to Information awaits final members
The Commission for Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information of the Republic of North Macedonia
(Contribution by Foundation for Internet and Society – Metamorphosis, North Macedonia)