The Access to Information Index for 2023 notes legislative progress, but also issues related to transparency and response to requests

The adoption of the new law on access to information of public interest marks the most important change in the legislation on transparency of public institutions in the Republic of Moldova, but the practical aspect of obtaining access to information remains a challenge. These conclusions result from Access to Information Index for 2023, a research that measures the transparency of authorities, and they were presented at the Media Forum, held in Chisinau on December 4-5.

The Access to Information Index, standing at 59 points out of 100 this year, is measured based on three criteria: access to information requests, proactive transparency, and legislative framework. The score is higher than last year’s, which is entirely due to the revision of the legislation, according to the authors. Specifically, the new law on access to information of public interest, which was adopted in June 2023, “complies with the main international standards and marks a breakthrough in the quality of the legislative framework for transparency, although its implementation will only be evaluated for the first time next year”.

On the other hand, the practical aspect of obtaining access to information remains a challenge. “There has been no tangible progress in proactive transparency and access to information on request. Some of these problems stem from the low quality of the legislation still in force. For example, it is not entirely clear to public institutions to what extent they are

obliged to disclose salary information and other important financial data. The entry into force of the new law should have a positive impact in this regard. The new law guarantees transparency of the personal data of civil servants relating to their professional activities (performance of public functions). Remuneration data, among other categories of information, will be subject to mandatory publication,” the report explains.

The authors note that the identified gaps demonstrate a low culture of transparency among public institutions. The experts measured their performance in processing requests for information of public interest, sending a standardized request to 73 authorities. The request referred to financial data, “an area that appears to be particularly problematic and controversial”.

The findings show that, compared to 2022, there has been a notable decline in the quality of the processing of requests and, respectively, “significant problems in the practical application of transparency legislation”. “Regarding the quality and completeness of replies, the main problem that persists is the availability of salary information. In many cases, those institutions refused to disclose information on the salaries of senior management, citing confidentiality. (…) A positive aspect is the fact that the vast majority of public institutions responded to requests within the legal period of 15 working days,” as provided by the legislation still in force, explain the authors of the research.

As for proactive transparency, the indicator measures the availability of basic data sets and information on the websites of public institutions. In order to assess how this rule is applied, the authors of the study analyzed the official websites of 73 public institutions and found some progress.

“The increased availability of salary information is the main strength of the assessment. In 2022, none of the assessed institutions offered this type of data. (…) In addition to salary data, proactive publication of public procurement information remains a problem. (…) Overall, although no institution ensured the availability on its website of all information included in the sample, we found a group of institutions that are on the right track to ensure a good level of proactive transparency. They appear to be well prepared for the implementation of the new law on access to information of public interest, which places proactive transparency at the heart of the entire transparency regime,” the source says

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