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Norway

Strengthening the Transparency of Public Authorities and Administration (NO0025)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Norway Action Plan 2013-2015

Action Plan Cycle: 2013

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Ministry of Justice

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Access to Information, Capacity Building, Legislation & Regulation, Right to Information

IRM Review

IRM Report: Norway End-of-Term Report 2014-2015, Norway Second IRM Progress Report 2013-2014

Starred: No

Early Results: Did Not Change

Design i

Verifiable: No

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

 Norway will consider the need for amendments to section 1, second paragraph
(a), of the Freedom of Information Regulations. However, it is not possible to
predict with any certainty whether any amendments will be made or what such
amendments would consist of.
 During follow-up of the evaluation of the Freedom of Information Act,
consideration will be given to whether the question of the provision of separate
penalty provisions in the Freedom of Information Act should be raised. However,
the researchers who are to conduct the evaluation will not consider this
question.
 The work on training in the practice of the archive legislation and the Freedom
of Information Act will be continued.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

14. Strengthening the transparency of public authorities and administration

Commitment Text:

a) Removal of the exception provision for public sector companies with no employees.

Pursuant to section 1, second paragraph (a) of the Freedom of Information Regulations, the Freedom of Information Act shall only apply to independent legal persons with employees permanently employed in administrative posts. The background for this was that such legal persons often have no-one who can practise and follow up the Act, cf. the Royal Decree of 17 October 2008, pages 63–64. Many companies have proved to be organized in such a way that, while they have no employees of their own, they are managed by employees of parent companies, subsidiaries, external consultants, etc., and that a number of such companies have considerable turnover. […]

b) Better practice of the Freedom of Information Act

[…]Regular courses and lectures are held on practice of the archive legislation and the Freedom of Information Act. This will be continued. Transparency International Norway has proposed that “as part of the forthcoming evaluation of the Freedom of Information Act, consideration should be given to whether penalties may help in ensuring better practice of and compliance with the intentions of the Act”.

Commitment Description

       Norway will consider the need for amendments to section 1, second paragraph (a), of the Freedom of Information Regulations. However, it is not possible to predict with any certainty whether any amendments will be made or what such amendments would consist of.

       During follow-up of the evaluation of the Freedom of Information Act, consideration will be given to whether the question of the provision of separate penalty provisions in the Freedom of Information Act should be raised. However, the researchers who are to conduct the evaluation will not consider this question.

       The work on training in the practice of the archive legislation and the Freedom of Information Act will be continued.

Key Impact Benchmark:

       Courses and lectures will be held on how the archive legislation and the Freedom of Information Act shall and should be practiced.

       During follow-up of the evaluation of the Freedom of Information Act, consideration will be given to whether the question of the provision of separate penalty provisions in the Freedom of Information Act should be raised. However, the researchers who are to conduct the evaluation will not consider this question.

       The Freedom of Information Act shall be evaluated by an independent body. In connection with evaluation, the main emphasis is to be placed on whether the intention of greater access to information has been met. During the evaluation, particular attention will be devoted to the practice of the exemption from access to internal documents.

Responsible institution: Ministry of Justice

Supporting institution(s): None

Start date: Unclear            End date: Unclear

Editorial note: The text of the commitments was abridged for formatting reasons. For the full text of the commitment, please see http://bit.ly/1QlVIja.

Policy Aim

The scope and implementation of Norway’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)[Note 83: Lov om rett til innsyn i dokument i offentleg verksemd (offentleglova), LOV-2006-05-19-16,
Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet, accessed September 4, 2016, https://www.lovdata.no/all/hl-20060519-016.html. ]
has been the subject of much debate. Of particular interest to civil society representatives are the types of information and public bodies not covered by the act and the less than perfect observance and implementation of the act by public bodies when receiving freedom of information requests.[Note 84: Joachim Nahem (OGP Councilmember), interview by Christopher Wilson, in-person meeting, Offices of the International Law and Policy Institute, March 23, 2016; Liv Freihow (Director of Financial Politics, IKT-Norway), interview by Christopher Wilson, in-person meeting, Offices of the International Law and Policy Institute, March 12, 2016; Guro Slettemark (Executive Director, Transparency International Norway), interview by Christopher Wilson, in-person meeting, Offices of the International Law and Policy Institute, March, September 2016; Stian Slotterøy Johnsen (General Secretary, Norwegian Association of Voluntary Organizations), interview by Christopher Wilson, phone interview, September 13, 2016; Nils Øy (Special Adviser, Norwegian Press Association), interview by Christopher Wilson, in-person meeting, Offices of the Norwegian Association of the Press, September 1, 2016; and Siri Gedde-Dahl (Chair, Norwegian Committee for Access to Information (Offentlighetsutvalget)), interview by Christopher Wilson, in-person meeting, Offices of the Norwegian Association of the Press, September 1, 2016.] This commitment aims both to consider specific adjustments to the legislation and to improve implementation of the act through formal training of public officials.

Status

Mid-term: Limited
The government had internally discussed amendments to the FOIA to broaden the scope of its applicability. Consideration of these amendments were in a preparatory phase by mid-term. In addition, the focal point for this commitment in the Ministry of Justice reported that the ministry had held some courses and lectures on implementation of the FOIA in a variety of government ministries and agencies. However, the contact did not provide the IRM researcher with specific information regarding these trainings.[Note 85: Contribution of the Ministry of Justice to Norway’s Self-Assessment, on file with researcher. Also, Ole Knut Løstegaard (Legal Adviser, Ministry of Justice), interview by Lena Olsen, phone interview, March 18, 2015.]

End-of-term: Limited
The IRM researcher could find no additional evidence of the implementation of this commitment. According to the government self-assessment provided by the Ministry of Justice focal point for this commitment, trainings and lectures on the FOIA have been delivered on a running basis to various relevant ministries, municipal governments, and other public bodies, including the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education in 2015 (after this action plan’s period of implementation) and the Norwegian Civil Affairs Authority in 2014.[Note 86: Ole Knut Løstegaard (Legal Adviser, Ministry of Justice), interview by Christopher Wilson, email correspondence, September 14-15, 2016. ] The format and focus of these lectures and trainings have varied significantly, and the IRM researcher was referred to contacts in the individual ministries and agencies who received these lectures for additional information. No further details have yet been received.

An independent evaluation of the act has also been delivered and is currently undergoing public review.[Note 87: “Høyring - Evalueringen av offentleglova,” Ministry of Justice, accessed September 4, 2016, https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/hoyring---evalueringen-av-offentleglova/id2477095/.] This evaluation is completely independent of the OGP commitment referenced here and was mandated in parliament when the FOIA was adopted in 2006. This mandate explicitly excluded consideration of the points that are the focus of this commitment. On the other hand, the “consideration” proposed by this OGP commitment will only take place after a formal consultation is completed regarding the evaluation mandated by parliament. This will occur after a formal recommendation is drafted for consultation and after a consultation on that recommendation is held. There are thus a number of procedural steps that are completely unrelated to this commitment, but which must be taken before this commitment can be considered complete. This process is likely to continue well into 2017.  

Did it open government?

Access to information: Did not change

Public official exposure and training on the FOIA are positive activities and may improve implementation of the act, including response times and the quality and accuracy of responses. However, it is difficult to measure whether this has been the case given the lack of information provided by the government on specific training activities.

This commitment’s attention to amending the FOIA does not seem to have had any impact on access to information in Norway as the issues and sections listed here for consideration will not be considered in the near term. It is worth noting that Norway’s FOIA is a point of contention with civil society actors and representatives of the press interviewed for this report. There is also widespread dissatisfaction with how individual agencies have responded to FOIA requests.[Note 88: Presseforbundets offentlighetsutvalg (roughly translated as the Accountability and Transparency Committee established by the Norwegian Press Association) has released a collection of 13 examples from 2015 in which public insitutions failed to comply with FOIA requests and/or actively hindered access to information on issues of public interest. “Innsyn 2015: En eksempelsamling over hemmilighold I forvaltningen,” Pressens offentlighetsutvalget, 2016. On file with researcher. ] In fact, the conditions of the act’s evaluation were not shared openly, to the frustration of civil society and media actors.[Note 89: Vegard Venli, ”Krever åpenhet om evaluering av offentlighetsloven,” Kommunal Rapport (November 20, 2013), accessed September 4, 2016, http://kommunal-rapport.no/artikkel/Krever_penhet_om_evalu_173_ering_av_offentlighets_173_loven. ]

When considering meaningful amendments to the act, interviewees stressed the importance of including municipal actors within the scope of the law (not only the removal of the public sector exemption noted in this commitment), specifying criteria for materials and documents which must be archived and thus become subject to the FOIA,[Note 90: See Alf Tore Meling, “Slette eller ikke slette – det er spørsmålet. Hva er svaret?,” I all offentlighet (November 18, 2015), accessed September 4, 2016, http://www.ialloffentlighet.no/slette-eller-ikke-slette-det-er-sporsmalet-hva-er-svaret/. ] and establishing sanctions for non-compliance. Of these priorities expressed by civil society and press representatives, only the third is represented in this commitment, but it is explicitly excluded from the ongoing process of FOIA evaluation.

As such, this commitment is considered to have had no impact on access to information in Norway.

Carried forward?

This commitment has not been carried forward in the Norwegian government’s third national action plan, which is available on the OGP website.[Note 91: ”Norway’s third action plan Open Government Partnership (OGP),” Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation, accessed September 4, 2016, http://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Norway_2016-17_NAP.pdf.]


Commitments

Open Government Partnership