Access to Information in Cyprus Poor, Study Finds

19 December 2011

The official channels in Cyprus for releasing government information are weak and the public strongly favors improvements, according to the results of a recently completed study.

The report was based on research, opinion surveys and consultations conducted by three nongovernmental organizations: Access Info Europe, Cyprus EU Association (KAB) and the Socio-political Studies Institute (IKME), as part of the Access Info Cyprus Project

“The overall picture is not an optimistic one, but with public support progress can be achieved in a short period of time,” states the report. 

“The right of access to information is guaranteed in constitutional provisions on freedom of expression in both parts of Cyprus, but the legal framework is seriously flawed: there is no law on access to information in the south and a law that falls below Council of Europe standards in the north,” according to the report. 

Cyprus is the only country in the EU not to have either an access to information law or a draft law proposed by the government. 

The authors recommend adopting an access to information law in the south and/or reforming all relevant legislation in the north/south. 

“Systematic violations of the fundamental right of access to information island-wide were identified, with 75% administrative silence in response to requests for information,” the report said, summarizing its research. “The government should ensure that the public authorities respond to requests by providing comprehensive information within a reasonable time frame. To this effect they should adopt the necessary legal mechanisms and train all officials in the public’s right to know.” 

Three quarters of people in Cyprus believe that they have a right of access to information according to an opinion survey conducted for the project. Only around one in three respondents agree that public authorities in Cyprus are open and trustworthy. 

The report said that the government “has an obligation to inform the public of their right of access to information, including through public education campaigns on how to file requests, how to appeal refusals and silence, and where to find proactively published information.” 

“Many public bodies do not appear to have information officers nor to have provided full contact information on their websites or in other public materials,” the research also found. Also, there is no information commissioner or similar body responsible for oversight of the right to information and for receiving complaints from members of the public. Such staffing improvements were suggested. 

“The research found very poor levels of proactive publication on the websites of public authorities,” the report said, explaining, “Monitoring of 20 public bodies across the island found that in the south only 36% and in the north only 13% of core classes of information were available.” The websites particularly lack financial information such as projected budgets and actual expenditure, details of public procurement processes. 

Another finding was that the lack of information about public consultations helped explain the very low level of involvement of members of the public in public decision-making across the island. “There is a need to open the doors of government to the public, including by establishing frequent public participation mechanisms throughout the policy making process.”

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