Polish FOI Laws, Practices Weak, Evaluation Finds

20 June 2014

Poland’s access to information regime is critically evaluated in a report just published in English.

“Public institutions too often use a restricted interpretation of the existing regulations,” according to “Waiting for open government.” It was prepared in December of 2013 by the Polish Open Government Coalition as part of an effort to encourage Poland to join the Open Government Partnership.

The Coalition decided to monitor (1) the accessibility of public information, (2) the openness of public data, (3) the anti-corruption policy, (4) the openness of decision-making processes. The report covers all these topics. Coalition members are now working on the monitoring tool.

Assessing the legal regulations on access to information, the report gives them a 2.5 on a scale of 1-4, with 4 being top. This section was done by Krzysztof Izdebski, a lawyer with the Citizens Network – Watchdog Poland, working since 2007 on its program – The Non-Governmental Centre on Access to Public Information.

“Some regulations in this area are in force, but they are insufficient and are very often used in a discretionary manner,” the report says.

The right to public information in Poland is guaranteed in Article 61 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland of 1997, and in the Act on Access to Public Information (AAPI) of Sept. 6, 2001. The report explains, “Not all aspects are covered by the act – e.g. land surveying, cartographic and environmental information are not regulated by the act. Separate provisions on access to public information are also scattered in many other acts of law.” A 2011 amendment created “additional hindrances in the access and the re-use of public information.”

Concerning implementation, “Good practices can be found, but they are rare (e.g. limited to individual institutions,” the report says, giving a score of 2 points in this area. “Public institutions too often use a restricted interpretation of the existing regulations, and in particular of the definition of public information – many documents (e.g. legal agreements) from the records of public bodies (including the Supreme Court) are commonly denied the public information status.”

Further, “The approach to the public information disclosure is insufficiently proactive,” according to the report, indicating that “too few documents are published in the Public Information Bulletin.”

Decision-makers “do not easily grant access” to information and there are processing delays, according to the evaluation. “Public institutions see citizens’ right to public information as a nuisance,” says the report. “Surveys performed by non-governmental organisations show that almost 50 percent of central and local administration institutions reply with delay or do not reply at all to applications for access to public information.”

“The problem lies not only in the low level of legal competence on the part of public institution workers, but also in their inappropriate approach to the issue,” the report says, pointing out that the sanctions for no providing information are “not clearly defined.”

Reform Proposals Made

The report includes recommendations for reform, commenting on the government’s Efficient State 2020 strategy:

The most important task is to standardise the system of applying for public information – procedures (described in other acts of law) different from those introduced by aapi should be abandoned and fees for information charged based on additional regulations should be abolished. Effective appeals procedure should also be introduced.”

It is necessary to change the functioning of Public Information Bulletins (and to define the deadlines for and the extent of public information publication, as well as sanctions for not publishing required information) so that they become compatible with the basic regulations rather than being only an additional source of information on public institution activities.

It is also necessary to change the legal regulations concerning the re-use of public information, in particular in order to make the procedure of public information re-use less complicated. Proposal to transfer the provisions on the re-use of public information from the Act on Access to Public Information to a separate act of law should be given serious consideration, especially in the light of the need to implement the directive changing the principles of re-use of public information.

The preceding recommendations cannot be implemented without higher awareness on how important it is to proactively make available the information on the part of public servants and their openness in sharing information. Thus, a strategy to disseminate the knowledge on the access to public information among public servants and citizens should be developed and implemented. Comprehensive solutions to promote openness among civil servants of all ranks should be introduced. Additionally, a method to identify information especially valuable for the society need to be developed, and mechanisms for securing the feedback from citizens need to be implemented.

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