The roundtable “The Future of Freedom of Information in Serbia” was held on Wednesday, 22 February 2019 at hotel Zira in Belgrade.
The Roundtable was organized as part of the project “The Future of Freedom of Information in Serbia” implemented by Partners for Democratic Change Serbia, in cooperation with the Bureau for Social Research (BIRODI) and Law Scanner. The Project is financed by the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia, Open Society Foundation, Serbia and The Office for Cooperation with Civil Society of the Serbian Government. The main goal of the Project is to contribute to the efforts of the civil sector in defending the current level of their right to access to information of public importance.
The findings of the research regarding the transparency of information, as well as the use of mechanisms for free access to information of public importance in Serbia, were presented at the Roundtable.
During the opening panel, Miodrag Milosavljevic (Open Society Foundation, Serbia), Marina Mijatovic (Law Scanner), Zoran Gavrilovic (BIRODI) and Ana Toskic (Partners Serbia) reflected on the existing challenges in the implementation of mechanisms for free access to information of public importance, and the importance of improving the transparency of authorities for the general democratic infrastructure in the country.
The findings of the research related to transparency of information regarding public procurement and public-private partnerships were presented during the second panel. The authors of the analysis, Marina Mijatovic and Jovan Nicic concluded that the public procurement still isn’t transparent enough and emphasized the importance of transparency during all stages of the process. Suzana Todorovic (Directorate of Public Procurement), Misa Bojovic (Transparency Serbia) and Miroslav Mijatovic (Podrinje Anti-corruption Team) also participated in this panel. All the panelists agreed that the citizens and the media lack interest in these topics, as well as that the institute of Citizen’s Supervision was abolished by the new Draft of the Law on Public Procurement. Contracts between purchaser and the supplier are not published regularly and cannot be found on the purchasers’ websites or on the Public Procurement Portal. It is also necessary to make amendments to the Law on Public Procurement and transfer the jurisdiction for conducting first instance misdemeanor proceedings from Republic Commission to the misdemeanor courts.
Project consultant Milan Stefanovic and Kristina Kalajdzic (Partners Serbia) presented the findings on how the Administrative Inspectorate and misdemeanor courts handle cases related to free access to information. The study shows that the Administrative Inspectorate failed to effectively exercise its inspection powers and submit requests for initiating misdemeanor procedure in 15 out of 21 (71%) sample cases. Such practice encourages institutions not to follow the Commissioner’s decisions. All misdemeanor proceeding cases (103) initiated by the Administrative Inspectorate from 2015 to 2018 have been analyzed as well. What is especially worrying is the fact that the procedure was suspended in 24% of cases because of statutory limitations. Having in mind the duration of Commissioner’s proceedings and the Administrative Inspectorate proceedings (preceding the conduct of the misdemeanor courts), as well as the mild penal policy and inefficiency of the misdemeanor courts, the panelists believe that the practice of misdemeanor courts does not allow for the effective sanctioning of the violation of the right to information, nor does it achieve the desired deterrent effect. It is necessary to impose higher penalties on perpetrators previously convicted on similar grounds, as well as impose maximum penalties for repeated offences, establish the obligation to check for previous conviction of the defendant, improve the quality of the court’s reasoning, especially regarding the imposition of a fine and improve the quality of explanation of the causes of case dismissal due to statutory limitation, so that they contain description of all actions taken in the proceeding. It is also important to establish longer deadlines for statutory limitation for offences in this field. Milan Marinovic (the President of Misdemeanor Court in Belgrade), Slavoljupka Pavlovic (representative from the office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection) and Bojana Jovanovic (journalist and deputy editor of Crime and Corruption Reporting Network – KRIK) also participated in this panel.
The Roundtable gathered over 40 representatives of civil society organizations, courts, prosecutor’s offices, independent institutions, media and other relevant bodies.
Funded by the European Union