This Saturday, 28 September, is International Right to Information Day. For the Transparency International movement, this is a day to celebrate the difference that citizens can make towards fighting corruption by taking advantage of laws which protect their universal right to information.
In some countries, however, this right is under threat.
In Montenegro, proposed amendments to the Montenegrin Law on Free Access to Information have raised serious concern from experts, who say that the majority of the proposed changes would have a negative effect, and would take Montenegro further away from international transparency standards.
Already this year, the Montenegrin government has twice tried to amend the country’s law on classified information in a manner which violates several articles of the country’s constitution. Thanks to push-back from media and civil society, the worst provisions in that law were dropped.
These latest efforts fly in the face of Montenegro’s commitments as a member of the Council of Europe and the Open Government Partnership.
For example, some of the proposed revisions make it easier for authorities to abuse of the system for classifying information, thanks to overly broad exceptions and blanket limitations.
In a letter to the working group responsible for this area of Montengrin law, the specialist NGO Access Info Europe has described some provisions as “unreasonable and far too vague.” These include a clause which prohibits requests for “too much information.”
“Any public authority with a half-decent information management system should be able to handle requests for somewhat large quantities of information. This is particularly true in the digital age.”
The proposed amendments also create the possibility of public officials deciding what information is or isn’t of public importance. This should not be the case. Exceptions to the right to information should be based on sound grounds and risks of harm, not the whims of individuals. Only then can an active and engaged citizenry use their right to information to hold authorities to account and help stop corruption.
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