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IJC Report // The slowest and fastest ministry to provide information of public interest

30 September 2021
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Some ministries answer information requests within several days, while for others, it can take more than a month to reply. It is one of the findings of the “Journalistic access to information of public interest: from letter of the law to power abuse” study report published by the Independent Journalism Center to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information celebrated every year on 28 September.

IJC experts sent information requests to 31 providers to find out how often authorities received such requests from journalists and how they processed them. The questions asked by journalists were relatively simple, did not concern personal data and included the following: How many information requests did you receive in 2020? How many of these requests were denied? How many of the requesting persons who had been denied filed a claim in court? How much do your media relationship officers earn? There were also additional questions, depending on the specific activities of each provider. For instance, the Ministry of External Affairs was asked about the number of foreign journalists accredited by it; courts were asked about the number of cases initiated to protect the right of access to information; the Prosecutor’s Office and the National Integrity authority were asked to provide the number of cases opened by them based on journalistic investigation reports.

Nine of the information requests were sent to ministries existing at the moment of research, and another nine were addressed to the Parliament, the President’s Office and other authorities. Six requests were sent to justice authorities, and another six – to local public authorities suggested by journalists.

The analysis of replies provided shows that waiting time was the shortest in case of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – 3 business days, while the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research provided the slowest reply which came in 36 business days (i.e. 54 calendar days). The Ministry’s letter said that IJC’s request required them to check a large amount of information, which took the officials more time to accomplish: “Please note that there was no intention on our part to delay the provision of the data requested, and we are available for any future cooperation”. Meanwhile, the Ministry had not informed IJC of the need to extend the waiting time.

Of all the information providers, only the President’s Office and the Ministry of Education exceeded the maximum time allowed for replying to a request (by 2 business days and by 21 business days, accordingly). “The simplicity of our request did not seem to reduce the time necessary to answer it. While it took ministries 14 days on average to answer the requests, in case of other categories of providers the average waiting time was 10 business days. In one case, the government information provider failed to send a reply”, the study authors concluded.

The synthesized data suggest that a ministry handles an average of 119 information requests per year, while a justice authority receives 617 requests on average. According to the same data, local public authorities process 177 information requests every year.