M E M O R A N D U M

We, the representatives of non-governmental organizations, who took part in the National Round Table Advocacy for Free Access to Information, held on March 14, 2008 in Sofia, unite behind the following in the process of searching for access to public information, we have faced the following problems:

  • As a whole, there is lack of political will for the implementation of the Access to Public Information Act.

  • The lack of an independent oversight body makes difficult the protection of right of access to information, resolving it only to the opportunity of court appealing;
  • The lack of detailed regulations for the active publication of information online creates difficulties before the fulfilling of obligation for publication;
  • The lack of detailed procedure for working with electronic requests creates problems for the exercising of the right of access to information;
  • Access to information held by monopolists which provide public services (Water & Sewage Companies, Heating Companies, Electricity Companies, Bulgarian Telecommunication Company) is impossible;
  • Institutions often refuse information of high public interest on the ground of trade secret and protection of third partys interests;
  • The prevailing public interest is not taken into consideration when the information is provided;

  • Draft normative documents are not published;
  • Preliminary information on programs and strategies is not published;
  • There is lack of transparency related to the evaluation process of applications for the EU preaccession program funds after the end of the procedure;

  • Obliged bodies often give as a reply of requests huge amount of information, which does not correspond accurately and precisely to the request;
  • Even if public institutions provide the requested information, that information is not always sufficient and reliable;
  • When citizens ask for information, the officials react as if they are threatened;
  • There is no practice of sending information via mail;
  • Insufficient IT skills of officials often makes electronic information provision impossible;
  • The special needs of disabled people are not taken in account;
  • The practice of silent refusal is continuing;
  • Sometimes the administration refuses information only because the requested documents have not been prepared, although they are obliged;

  • The procedure of court appealing is slow and clumsy;
  • The litigation practice on similar cases is often contradictory;
  • Even if the court decision is in favor of the requestor there is no effective mechanism to ensure the provision of the information;

Convinced that improvement of access to public information is of crucial importance for the development of active civil society and culture of transparency in Bulgaria, we suggest:

Amendments to access to information connected legislation:

  • More detailed definition of the trade secret in the Fair Competition Act to be introduced;
  • The category of administrative/office secret to be removed from the text of the Protection of Classified Information Act;
  • A possibility for administrative appealing of refusals of access to information to be provided;
  • n obligation for the administration to make a balance of interests in the process of delivering information to be introduced;
  • An independent oversight body to be established to review refusals of access to information; to promote the law (e.g. to work out and disseminate promotional materials); to decide on balance of interests in cases of searching public information;
  • Quick judicial proceedings to be introduced for access to public information cases.
Amendments regarding active publication of information:
  • All normative documents (laws, regulations, ordinances, instructions, acts), individual acts (orders, decisions), as well as urban development plans and projects, subject to appeal, which are prepared, applied and controlled by the respective institutions to be published online.
  • Every institution to publish online updated information about the public registers and data bases which it maintains;
  • Every institution to publish secondary legislation, regulations, instructions and internal rules related to the APIA implementation within the respective institution;
  • Every institution to publish on its web site information which have already been sought;
  • Every institution to develop and maintain a forum frequently asked questions (FAQ) and a hot phone line;
  • All documents related to the evaluation of projects financed under EU programs to be public, including on the Internet;
  • The names of the members of committees which take decisions regarding the projects financed under the EU programs to be provided after the evaluation procedure is ended;
  • All contracts of institutions for activities, financed from the budget or EU programs, to be published;
  • Every institution to publish its current budget and the report on its implementation;
  • Sanctions for civil servants who do not fulfil their obligations under the APIA to be published on the web site of respective institution.

Changes regarding the APIA implementation:

  • The process for submission of requests and receiving information to be shortened one-stop-shop service;
  • Possibility for e-submission of requests and e-tracking of requests within the institutions to be introduced;
  • Possibility for bank payment of the costs for information provision to be granted;
  • Sanctions for civil servants who do not fulfil their obligations under the APIA to be executed.
Pursuing the aim of strengthening NGOs and citizens capacity as advocates for access to information, we suggest:
  • To raise public awareness on access to public information regulations and to help citizens be aware and exercise their right of access to information successfully;
  • To publish a revised edition of the How to Get Access to Information Handbook;
  • To establish a National Access to Information Advocates Network in Bulgaria with the aim of information exchange; increased capacity for legal help; successive campaigns for more transparent public bodies.

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English Version • Last Update: 12.05.2008 • © 1999 Copyright by Interia & AIP