Hungarian President Sends FOI Bill Back to Parliament

10 May 2013

Hungarian President Janos Áder has told Parliament to reconsider a controversial law diminishing the access to information law, though some critics would have preferred that he had referred it to the constitutional court for review.

Parliament hastily approved a bill April 30 sponsored by the ruling Fidesz party, generated considerable objection from pro-transparency groups. (See previous report.)

Áder said he was returning it because the amendment would be difficult to implement, according to a report by the Hungarian News Agency. Áder wrote in a letter to Speaker László Kövér that the draft bill on public information gives authorities too much leeway to decide which information requests to act on. Among other things, the amendments would allow the government to reject “excessive” requests for information, a standard critics called too vague.

“Fidesz said the party group considered Áder’s opinion important and would keep it in mind when making a decision `about the future of the law,’ ” the article also said.

Áder also returned a bill on a relaxation of the rules governing conflicts of interest affecting senior officials at the chamber of agriculture.

The EU is examining Hungary’s latest amendments to its constitution to see if they are against the rule of law and weaken democratic checks and balances, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has summarized the background and problems with the amendments.

Transparency International Hungary, public spending watchdog K-Monitor, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and investigative reporting website have opposed the changes.

Miklós Ligeti, legal director at Transparency International Hungary, said May 8: ‘This amendment is the first step down a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is full state control of public information. It heralds a dark age for democratic governance in Hungary.”

The NGOs believe the amendment was motivated by requests for access to retail tobacco licenses that reportedly went to government party loyalists.

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