Penalties for Blocking Public Information
Following citizen’s complaints for denying their freedom of information requests, inspectors will now have recourse to punish responsible individuals and institutions with fines between 1,000 KM and 15,000 KM.
BiH Parliament (Photo: CIN)
By the Center for Investigative Reporting
BiH Parliament amended its Freedom of Access to Information Law so the Administrative Inspectorate of the BiH Justice Ministry will oversee its implementation. Inspectors are obliged to review every citizen’s complaint within eight days.
Even though the inspectors have been checking up on similar complaints, they previously had no authority to punish or fine those in power. Now, they have the authority to issue fines of up to 1,000 KM on the spot to a responsible individual or an agency they represent. If the responsible person fails to pay their fine and the case ends up in court the punishment can reach up to 15,000 KM.
The Chief Administrative Inspector Emir Mehmedović said that four inspectors can hardly manage to respond to all complaints, on top of their other responsibilities: “We need at least two other people to be able to do the job.”
The Administrative Inspectorate will probe only into complaints related to administrative silence, a situation in which an institution does not respond to a FOIA request, or responds late.
The Inspectorate has no jurisdiction to analyze the content of a reply. According to the new amendments this will be the job of the “second-instance institution”, which means that in most cases citizens are going to send their appeals to a three-member Appeal Panel at the BiH Council of Ministers. The chairman Hamdo Tinjak said that this was not going to have a significant impact on their work nor increase the volume of their work because the Panel has been deciding on these issues all along.
The changes to the BiH Law on Freedom of Information were drafted by representatives from the non-governmental sector and legislators Azra Hadžiahmetović, Nermina Zaimović-Uzunović and Lazar Prodanović put them forth in the parliament. The Personal Data Protection Agency in BiH launched a botched attempt to change the law mid-last year. It was thought that the proposed amendments would hide important public information and the proposal was met with a public outcry. The agency subsequently dropped the amendments and the process of amending the law was stalled.
Published: Jan. 15, 2014.