site.btaBetween 10,000 and 12,000 Applications for Access to Information Submitted Annually in Bulgaria
Between 10,000 and 12,000 applications for access to public information were submitted annually in the last decade, Access to Information Programme Executive Director Alexander Kashumov said in a BTA interview.
On September 28, the world marks the International Day for Universal Access to Information and the International Right to Know Day.
On this occasion, the Access to Information Programme is presenting its 21st annual awards for access to information.
According to Council of Ministers official statistics, the percentage of institutions which respond to applications for access to information, is very high, Kashumov said. “The problem is that there are still applications which are turned down and that is why the public interest is not yet fully protected,” he said. He cited as an example a refusal by public gas supplier Bulgargaz to provide information on the negotiations and the conditions for gas supplies, as well as refusals from the prosecution service, the Counter-Corruption Commission, and Sofia Municipality.
“Taken as a percentage of this country's population, 10,000 to 12,000 applications a year is not a big figure, but the people who seek access to information are very important: these are the critical-thinking citizens, journalists, business representatives, and NGOs,” the lawyer said, adding that this figure is comparable to those in other democratic countries.
Kashumov said that amendments to the Access to Public Information Act adopted by the Parliament on September 15 are an achievement to be celebrated.
The amendments introduce a number of new concepts and additional obligations for public sector organizations. The priority areas in which public data should be opened, the types of data subject to disclosure including dynamic data, research data and high-value data sets, and the conditions for their disclosure were defined.
According to the Protection of Classified Information Act, the maximum protection period for classified information is 30 years. Under this law, the subject information should be declassified upon the expiration period specified, Kashumov said.
He pointed out that other countries have public registries through which this can be done. “In Bulgaria, it is not possible to find out when information ceases to be classified. There are documents for which we can tell when they expire and whether someone has declassified them. There are cases where classified information is used as an excuse for refusing to provide information. There were more such attempts years ago, but recently they have decreased,” Kashumov added.
The International Right to Know Day has been marked since 2003 on the initiative of the International Freedom of Information Advocates Network. It was established on the last day of a Freedom of Information litigation conference held in Sofia in September 2002. The day has been observed in Bulgaria since 2003 on the initiative of the Access to Information Programme. The International Day for Universal Access to Information was proclaimed by a UNESCO resolution adopted on November 17, 2015, in Paris.