On June 4, 2019, Access to Information Programme presented the findings and conclusions from its annual Access to Information in Bulgaria report.
„Regarding the implementation of the APIA, Bulgaria has a rather rich history for almost 19 years since its adoption. Besides the problematic issues, AIP reports on the state of access to information issued since 2001 also show positive trends of ever-increasing proactive publication of information on the websites of obliged institutions, positive developments in the APIA litigation, much greater knowledge of the law and the rights it guarantees by the requestors.”
Dr Gergana Jouleva, AIP Executive Director
The report is being prepared and published by the Access to Information Program (AIP) team every year since the adoption of the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) in the summer of 2000. The AIP report contains:
- recommendations related to the access to information legal framework and its implementation;
- assessment of the regulations in the access to information area;
- analysis of the results from the assessment of the proactive transparency of 564 institutions for 2019;
- analyses of the access to information cases referred to AIP for legal aid and consultation during 2018, including for representation in court.
The report also contains 6 Annexes:
Annex 1: Institutional Information - Legal Basis, Functions, Public Services, Information Data Bases and Information Resources
Annex 2: Operational Information - Acts, Development Strategies, Plans, Activities and Activity Reports
Annex 3: Financial Transparency - Budget, Financial, Public Procurement, and Integrity Information
Annex 4: Access to Information Section - information about the right of access to information and how to exercise it
Annex 5: Data Only for MUNICIPALITIES
Annex 6: Litigation 2018 - Annotation of Cases
Based on the analysis of the legislation and practices, the authors of the report Gergana Jouleva, Alexander Kashumov, Kiril Terziiski, and Stephan Anguelov outline main problems and make recommendations for improving the state of access to information in Bulgaria, enhancing government transparency and accountability.
- There is no independent public body to oversee and coordinate the APIA implementation, analyze the results and set up models for better implementation;
- There is no possibility of administrative appeal, nor appeal before an independent body (i.e. information commissioner/ commission);
- After the amendments to the Administrative-Procedure Code as of 01.01.2019, there is no second instance in the court protection of the right to information;
- For ten years, the Bulgarian Government has not undertaken steps to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (CETS No.205).
Recommendations with respect to the appealing of the decisions issued under the APIA:
- To restore the full protection of the right of access to public information by providing for at least two independent court instances to review complaints against refusals and decisions to grant access to public information;
- Upon restoration of the two-instance proceedings, a mechanism for expedite judicial review of the APIA cases should be established;
- If that the two-instance legal proceedings are not reinstated, an independent body /information commissioner or committee/ should be established to deal with complaints at first instance.
Recommendations with respect to the right to information and its restrictions:
- Measures should be taken to ensure that the administration strikes a fair balance between the right of access to public information and the right to the protection of personal data, as well as between the right of access to public information and the trade secret protection.
Recommendations with respect to the proactive online publications:
- “Access to Information” sections on institutional websites to be maintained in compliance with the APIA requirements so that they serve their main function – to assist information seekers;
- To introduce in all institutions a system for electronic requests processing;
- To unify the website publication model;
- To review and amend the internal APIA implementation rules in compliance with the new obligations for proactive publication and the changes in the law (as of 2016);
- To designate a coordinating public body which shall set common models, and assist public bodies in the implementation of the law, oversee and analyze the implementation practices, and exercise control;
A concurring recommendation is the Government to undertake steps to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (CETS No.205).
AIP also recommends that the National Assembly shall take steps to ensure real transparency in the legislative process by changing the Regulations of its Organization and Activities.
Access to Information in Bulgaria 2018, Access to Information Programme, 2019, p. 91, ISSN 1314-0515.
The text of the report in Bulgarian: http://store.aip-bg.org//publications/ann_rep_bg/2018.pdf
English translation will follow soon.
The report is prepared within the project Transparency Advice Center supported by a grant from America for Bulgaria Foundation.