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Serbia

Improving Proactive Transparency – Information Booklet (RS0019)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Serbia Second National Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: MPALSG; Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection

Support Institution(s): Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection; CRTA – Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability, Belgrade Open School (BOS), UNDP

Policy Areas

Capacity Building, E-Government, Legislation & Regulation, Public Participation, Records Management

IRM Review

IRM Report: Serbia End-of-Term Report 2016–2018, Serbia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Did Not Change

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

THEME: Improving Access to Information of Public Importance; COMMITMENT 6: Improving proactive transparency – Information Booklet; Status quo or problem addressed by the commitment: The Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, which came into force in 2004, provides that transparency in the work of public administration bodies can be achieved in two ways: proactively and reactively. Proactive transparency implies timely publishing of documents and availability of understandable information for citizens. Information booklets on the work of public authorities and their content are defined by the by the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance and they include information used or generated by public administration bodies in their work. The currently applicable arrangement for publishing the Information Booklets (in Word/PDF formats) and the updating system lead to insufficient data, make any attempt at oversight an arduous task and provide limited possibilities for comparison of information, which reduces citizens’ overall awareness of the issues. The results of a survey carried out by the Belgrade Open School at the local self-government unit level showed that information booklets generally tend to lack the most sensitive information, especially information about the budget, which was observed in 69% of all cases. Only 16% of all municipalities published information about public procurement, while 11% published information about awarded state aid and various forms of financial support to public and other enterprises. About a half of all information booklets of LSGUs in Serbia (47%) do not contain information about e.g. documents and requirements necessary to exercise a social security entitlement or about the issuance of a certificate of registration with the register of births. Main objective: Improved access to information with full implementation of the proactive transparency principle through introduction of a single application to enter data in Information Booklets of public administration bodies. The planned amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, namely its Article 39 and Article 3 that defines the concept of a public authority body and the concept of a government body within the meaning of this Law, to which category of authorities refers obligation to publish the Information Booklet, as well as amendments to the Instructions on Preparation of Information Booklets, will see the information contained in those Information Booklets reformatted with the aim of opening the data contained therein and improving proactive transparency. In addition, harmonisation of these two documents would encourage the administration at all levels to open data in accordance with the “Open Data Readiness Assessment” published in December 2015. Brief description of commitment (140-character limit): The planned amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, namely its Article 39 and Article 3 that defines the concept of a public authority body and the concept of a government body within the meaning of this Law, to which category of authorities refers obligation to publish the Information Booklet, as well as amendments to the Instructions on Preparation of Information Booklets, will see the information contained in those Information Booklets reformatted with the aim of opening the data contained therein, improving proactive transparency and expanding the circle of administration bodies subject to the legal requirement of publishing Information Booklets. This will entail: 1) Development of a single IT system to access, process and present the Information Booklet; 2) Designing a segment of an online platform that would serve as an Information Booklet, coupled with an obligation for public administration bodies to publish information booklets in PDF format. 3) Training of employees in government bodies for the use of a single IT system 4) Piloting the use of the application; 5) Promotion of the application (single IT system) for the public, civil sector, business sector and the media. Effectiveness of the amendments to Article 39 of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance would be delayed until the online platform is designed. OGP challenge addressed by the commitment: Strengthening public integrity; Relevance: The proactive transparency principle is fully compliant with the open government principles, which are also proclaimed by the OGP initiative. Timely provision of information in an open format would directly improve data accessibility, which will ensure transparency and accountability in the work of public administration and foster civic participation and influence on the work of public administration. Provision of information in an open data format would enable subsequent processing of information and easier development of services and digital solutions for certain social services or social changes (e.g. development of a web or mobile application which would provide necessary information on required documentation to citizens). Ambition: In order to increase civic participation, it will first be necessary to raise citizens’ awareness, both in quantitative and in qualitative terms. In this context, the level of comprehensibility of information made available to citizens by the public administration should also be taken into account. Only if citizens fully comprehend information that is provided to them proactively can it be considered that citizens have been properly informed. Reformatting of the information booklets would entail changes in the data entry and updating arrangements, which in turn would have direct effects on citizens’ awareness and facilitate the work of civil servants and oversight of compliance with the Law.
If adopted, this measure would ensure the following: - Public administration bodies would be able to enter data in their Information Booklets in a more efficient and faster manner; - The number of freedom of information requests would be reduced; - Public administration would be significantly improved because all pieces of information would be available in a single central database, both for other authorities and for citizens; - The system used for overseeing compliance with the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance would be more efficient if the oversight procedures were more expedient and if the oversight activities were conducted to a higher standard of quality.- Interested parties would have easier and faster access to the required information, which they would be able to download in an open format, compare, cross-check and use for further analysis, research and development of various applications. - Civic participation would improve significantly, as would the watchdog role of the media and citizens’ oversight of the work of public administration bodies.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

For Commitment details, please see Serbia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018 (Year 1).

IRM End of Term Status Summary

6. Opening Information Booklet Data

Commitment Aim:

To strengthen proactive transparency, this commitment aimed to obligate public institutions to publish consistent, complete, and regularly updated information about their work. This information was to be contained in a document called the Information Booklet. To standardize the quality of information across the administration, the Government committed to ensuring the booklets were made available in user friendly, open formats that made them easier to search, process, and reuse. In essence, the commitment included the following milestones: 1) amending the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance; 2) enacting Instructions for Developing and Publishing the Information Booklets; 3) developing an online application for accessing, processing, and presenting the booklets; 4) training state employees to use the application; 5) piloting the application; 6) promoting the application to the public, civil society, businesses, and the media.

Status

Midterm: Limited

The completion of this commitment was limited by midterm, predominantly due to the failure to amend the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance within the set timeline. The Government was still drafting the amendments at the midterm and civil society was excluded from the drafting process. The lack of progress hindered work on the Government's Instructions for Developing and Publishing the Information Booklets.

Other activities did move further. The application was designed and piloted and civil servants were provided with training. Together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the MPALSG piloted the application in ten local government units, helping to raise awareness and build the capacity of civil servants at the local level. The pilots also helped to identify potential issues in the application and make adjustments. Government and civil society representatives both assessed progress in the piloting process as smooth, although authorities of two big cities, Novi Sad and Niš, refused to participate.

End-of-Term: Limited

Implementation of this commitment remained limited at the end of term because the crucial milestone, namely the amendment of the Law on Free Access to Information, had not been completed. Amendments were supposed to introduce a single web portal for e-booklets, oblige public bodies to publish data in open formats, and update datasets within 15 days of any change. This made producing the e-booklets contingent on passing the amendments. The Government deadline for passing the legislation was meant to be the last quarter of 2016, according to both the Action Plan as well as Chapter 23 in the European Union accession negotiations, meaning it has been delayed by almost two years.

Part of the reason for delay relates to a negative public reaction on the proposed amendments. The Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and the various CSOs voiced their strong opposition to some of the proposed changes, arguing that they would reduce access to information rights. (Details of the polemic are thoroughly explained in the analysis of the commitment 7, which covers the amendment of the Law in particular.) For this reason, the working group, led by the MPALSG, intends to postpone the amendments until a consensus between the stakeholders has been brokered. [Note32: Ivan Kovacevic, interview with IRM Researcher, 13 September 2018.] A UNDP representative and a representative of Belgrade Open School, both involved in this commitment, stated that civil society has no remarks on the part related to the Information Booklets. However, as other proposals for amendments remain in dispute, they did not expect that the new law would be adopted by the end of 2018. [Note33: Sanja Nasevski, UNDP, interview with IRM Researcher, 7 September 2018; Vanja Dolapcev, Belgrade Open School, interview with IRM Researcher, 24 August 2018.] MPALSG confirmed that they had not received comments on the measures related to the Booklets, and that they, on the other hand, believed that the Government would approve the draft by the end of 2018. [Note34: Ivan Kovacevic, Interview with IRM Researcher, 13 September 2018.]

Designing and developing of the software for e-Booklets has been part of a separate project led by the UNDP, in addition to the OGP process. The project remains ongoing and the UNDP has its own timeframe, indicators, and resources. The application functions as a sub-domain of the Commissioner's website; [Note35: Publicly accessible at https://informator.poverenik.rs/naslovna ] it is available online, but still not officially in use. Representatives of the office of the Commissioner stated that their 'hands are tied' until the law is adopted, because they cannot perform tasks which are not legally mandated to them. [Note36: Stanojla Mandic and Slavoljupka Pavlovic, Office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, Interview with IRM Researcher, 19 September 2018.] On the other hand, they expressed their strong support for the project.

The piloting of the application in 10 local governments is complete, while the UNDP is continuously working on its optimization as new inputs from the practice of local authorities arrive. A UNDP representative stated that the quality of the uploaded information varies, and that UNDP had made an agreement with the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance to start the piloting process with five central administration bodies. [Note37: Sanja Nasevski, UNDP, interview with IRM Researcher, 7 September 2018.] At the time of writing, the portal contained e-Booklets from seven cities and municipalities, presenting relevant information such as their organizational structure, as well as data on staff, income, expenditures, state aid, and public procurement. In August 2018, the Commissioner's office organized two training sessions for public officials, focusing on processing freedom of information requests, developing Information Booklets, [Note38: Highlights are available at https://bit.ly/2Qn2bgm ] and introducing the application. While there are no legal grounds for obligating public bodies to use the application, a MPALSG representative mentioned plans to promote and invite authorities to do so voluntarily. [Note39: Dragana Brajovic, MPALS, Interview with IRM Researcher, 13 September 2018.]

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Did Not Change

Due to the limited implementation of this commitment, government practice around increasing access to information has remained unchanged. Government openness in this commitment primarily depends on the adoption of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance. Without a coherent approach and supporting technology, public bodies continue to publish booklets which are not user friendly and are difficult to search and reuse, as they are mainly published in Word or PDF format. Only seven local public bodies have published their information through the application so far, a trivial number considering that there are almost 3,802 public bodies obliged to issue information booklets. [Note40: Catalogue of public bodies, Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, available in open format at http://data.poverenik.rs/dataset/katalog ]

Carried Forward?

Interviewed stakeholders confirmed that this commitment would be carried forward almost completely, with modified activities and new deadlines. [Note41: Dragana Brajovic and Ivan Kovacević, MPALSG, Interview with IRM Researcher, 13 September 2018; Sanja Nasevski, UNDP, interview with IRM Researcher, 7 September 2018.]


Serbia's Commitments

  1. Develop a Model of Job Description or Part of Job Description of an Officer Responsible for Cooperation with Civil Society in Local Administration

    RS0014, 2016, Capacity Building

  2. Organise Trainings for Public Administration Officers in Connection with the Application of the Guidelines on Inclusion of Civil Society Organisations in the Process of Passing Regulations

    RS0015, 2016, Capacity Building

  3. Organise Trainings for CSO in Connection with Application of the Guidelines on Inclusion of Civil Society Organisations in the Process of Passing Regulations

    RS0016, 2016, Capacity Building

  4. Improve the System for Collecting Initiatives from Citizens and Businesses

    RS0017, 2016, Capacity Building

  5. Introducing Standards for Civic Participation in the Public Policy Management System

    RS0018, 2016, Capacity Building

  6. Improving Proactive Transparency – Information Booklet

    RS0019, 2016, Capacity Building

  7. Amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance

    RS0020, 2016, Legislation & Regulation

  8. Development of an Open Data Portal

    RS0021, 2016, Capacity Building

  9. Draft a Bylaw Based on the Guidelines for Evaluation of Websites

    RS0022, 2016, Capacity Building

  10. Improve the Institute of Public Hearing in the Drafting of Laws

    RS0023, 2016, Legislation & Regulation

  11. Development of a Uniform Methodology for Planning, Monitoring and Performance Evaluation of Programmes and Projects Implemented by Civil Society Organisations and Monitoring the Spending of Allocated Funds

    RS0024, 2016, Capacity Building

  12. Amend the Regulation on Funds to Support Programmes or Missing Amount of Funds for Programmes of Public Interest Implemented by Associations

    RS0025, 2016, Capacity Building

  13. Enactment of a Law on Electronic Documents, Electronic Identification and Trusted Services in Electronic Business

    RS0026, 2016, Capacity Building

  14. Establish a Single Public Register of Administrative Procedures and Other Conditions for Pursuing a Business Activity

    RS0027, 2016, Capacity Building

  15. Transparency in Monitoring Budget Expenditures

    RS0001, 2014, Capacity Building

  16. Law on Financing Political Activities

    RS0002, 2014, Legislation & Regulation

  17. Transparent Public Procurement Procedures

    RS0003, 2014, Open Contracting and Procurement

  18. Transparent Financing of Civil Society Organizations

    RS0004, 2014, Civic Space

  19. Extending and Clarifying Responsibilities of the Anti-Corruption Agency

    RS0005, 2014, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  20. Whistleblower Protection Trainings and Campaigns

    RS0006, 2014, Legislation & Regulation

  21. Draft Law Regulating Inspections in Public Administration

    RS0007, 2014, Audits and Controls

  22. e-Governmental Portal Awareness and Mobile Application

    RS0008, 2014, E-Government

  23. Starred commitment Public Administration Website Harmonization and Amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance

    RS0009, 2014, E-Government

  24. New Technologies to Improve Citizen Services

    RS0010, 2014, E-Government

  25. Cooperation with Civil Society Organizations in Public Policymaking

    RS0011, 2014, Civic Space

  26. Citizen Participation in Local Government Affairs

    RS0012, 2014, Public Participation

  27. Civil Society Participation in Monitoring the Public Administration (PAR) Strategy

    RS0013, 2014, Audits and Controls