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14/08/22

Institutions Get Better at Disclosing Information, Citizens at Seeking It

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Institutions are becoming more and more familiar with the Access to Public Information Act and its provisions. The percentage of citizens exercising their right of access to information is also increasing. This is part of the mission of the Access to Information Programme, which has been implemented for 26 years to encourage institutions to be more open and to help citizens seek information, said in an interview with BTA one of the founders and CEO of the Access to Information Programme (AIP) Gergana Zhuleva.
According to her, the process continues. "Things turned out to be more complicated than we had anticipated. Legislation had to be passed, and then it had to be implemented so that citizens knew their rights. For example, in 2000, before the adoption of the Access to Public Information Act (APIA), only three per cent of citizens had knowledge of the right to access to information, and by 2010 their share had grown to 39 per cent. I think we have contributed to that positive change," Zhuleva said.
She added that a bill amending the APIA was submitted to Parliament earlier this week. The purpose of these changes is to introduce the Open Data and Public Sector Information Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council from 2019 which make public sector and publicly funded data re-usable.
Some of the changes are related to the awareness of institutions of what information is required, which data sets are sought after by businesses, journalists, and citizens. The process is facilitated by the fact that after the changes in 2015 a portal was launched, which is currently managed by the Ministry of e-Government. In the profiles of the institutions, they upload a set of data that are searched by the citizens. The work on opening different sets of data and registers is also a good trend, Zhuleva said. For several years now, there has been an active campaign for the unification of business registers and the publication of data in an open format, which in turn facilitates the work of investigative journalists.
According to Zhuleva, citizens most often seek information about the control activities of institutions and what public money is spent on.
Last year, the report on the state of the administration in Bulgaria in 2020 showed that 14,500 applications had been submitted to the executive authorities. The percentage of information provided is higher than unconsidered applications or rejected access to information. The more information is uploaded on the websites, the fewer applications are being submitted, Zhuleva said.
According to her, the challenge for Bulgaria is to join and ratify the Convention on Access to Official Documents, which is the only international treaty that sets the standards for the member states of the Council of Europe.
At the same time, there is a strong movement in Europe to improve the state of the registers of documents in EU institutions and to start work on amending Regulation 1049/2001, which sets standards for access to documents of the European institutions.
The relationship between civil society and the institutions was discussed at a conference in Shumen in May, as part of BTA’s initiative Bulgarian Voices for Europe, which is implemented with the support of the European Parliament.

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