Rejection of freedom of information requests raises alarm in Montenegro
Issued by Transparency International Secretariat
Following a recent rejection of more than 90 freedom of information (FOI) requests in Montenegro, Transparency International denounces the actions of the government agency responsible for refusing the public access to important campaign spending information.
MANS, a non-governmental organisation and Transparency International’s chapter in Montenegro, submitted requests to the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information, the main FOI authority in Montenegro, in an effort to obtain financial disclosures related to the recent presidential election. Many of the rejected requests had been under consideration for more than a year.
“Governments should be transparent about how political campaigns are funded and where the money comes from,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International. “This includes disclosing information to the public. Freedom of information requests are a vital way for citizens and civil society to hold their governments to account.”
The rejection of the FOI requests represents an unusual step backwards for transparency in campaign financing in Montenegro, given that similar requests submitted by MANS were previously accepted.
As common practice, the agency previously fulfilled 152 requests submitted by MANS, which required political parties to publish financial information, however, this policy recently changed. The reversal came two days after a special prosecutor for corruption cases opened an investigation into donations made to the Democratic Party of Socialists, based on MANS findings. The agency’s decision was provided to MANS a day after the presidential elections in Montenegro, and as a result, to date there is very little information available to the public.
The timing of the FOI rejections in proximity to upcoming local elections across Montenegro also raises concerns that the FOI process has become politicised.
MANS has since filed legal appeals for the rejection of the FOI requests to be overturned. It is our hope that the court reaches a timely decision and considers international best practices when reviewing these appeals. However, political parties should not to wait for the decision of the court; they can be more transparent and make this information publicly available now.
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