After almost 10 months of intensive work within working group of the Ministry of Administration, public consultations, additional advocacy, research and lobbying, following several years of advocacy campaigns by civil society organizations and experts in Croatia, we finally did it – a new FOIA encompasses highest standards of transparency and oversight. Practically all GONG inputs and amendments were accepted in the final adopted draft. This required not only work within the working group, but also involving several MPs and other stakeholders to support the transparency standards and prevent last minute changes of the text. During these exciting and turbulent events , Ministry of Administration was very much interested in keeping the highest standards within the FOIA, finding itself in the advocacy position of CSOs, as opposed to some other institutions.
Main features of the new FOIA include:
a new oversight body – Information Commissioner, dedicated solely to the promotion and protection of the freedom of information. Commissioner will be elected by the Parliament, the latest intervention into the FOIA text grants immunity to the Commissioner, the same as for the MPs. Public call for the election of the Commissioner will be published within 8 days from FOIA entering into force;
full proportionality and public interest test, conducted by every public body and Information Commissioner, for all FOIA exceptions. This was a though one, but all classified data will be subjected to the full test;
great emphasis on proactive publishing of information by public bodies, including clear legal requirements (what must be published) and additional bylaws on implementation;
enabled reuse of information, without costs, for any purpose (non-commercial and commercial);
strong oversight mechanisms for the Commissioner (inspection, administrative sanctions, etc.).
In addition to the new FOIA, there are concrete measures, activity plans and pilot-projects for open data initiatives happening in Croatia (government portal – data.org.hr, among others), FOIA educations have started again in State School for Public Officials with GONG included as a lecturer, and hopefully, a new Information Commissioner will be a person to use the full FOIA potential now ensured by legal and institutional framework.
We are all very excited and concerned at the same time, and will continue our work in monitoring and research – firstly, to ensure a transparent and quality election of the Commissioner, and later to follow the implementation of the new FOIA and participate in educating civil servants and citizens.
A big thanx to all of you who cooperated in any way with Croatian counterparts, helping us to advocate and educate about FOIA potentials and standards. Hope we will continue our cooperation in the future!
Best regards to you all and please forgive my enthusiastic tone – this is a long-time dream come true to GONG :).