Albania Rewrites Access Law; Changes Considered Positive

30 October 2014

A new Albania right to information law has been enacted that supporters called “groundbreaking.”

“At last, this reform brings the law on the right to information to the level of advanced legislation in the region and beyond,” said Darian Pavli, senior attorney at the Open Society Justice Initiative in a statement that also credited lobbying by the Center for the Development and Democratization of Institutions (CDDI).

“What remains to be seen is whether the legal reform will also put an end to the lethargy of the Albanian political class in the area of transparency,” said Pavli.

The groups said, “Some of the far-reaching changes introduced by the new law are the following:

–       Setting up a new body, charged with supervising and monitoring compliance with the new law: the existing Commissioner for the Protection of Personal Data is vested with extensive competences and disciplinary powers and is renamed to Commissioner for the Right to Information and Protection of Personal Data.

–       New, shorter deadlines: the deadlines for responding to requests are shortened to 10 days.

–       Proactive dissemination of information: public authorities are now obliged to make certain categories of information available proactively.

–       Introduction of a more extensive definition of the term public information: under the new law, public information is defined as any data registered in any form and format, maintained by a public authority.

–       Introduction of a more extensive definition of the term public authority: under the new law, the term is extended and now encompasses commercial companies where the state holds the majority of shares, as well as any physical or legal entity that exercises public functions in areas such as education, health, energy, and telecommunications.

–       Ensuring a more effective response to information requests: under the new law, every public authority is obliged to designate a Coordinator for the Right to Information whose task will be to supervise the authority’s responses to information requests.

–       Introduction of dissuasive sanctions for failure to respect the right to information: the new law provides for heavy administrative sanctions, in the form of monetary fines, for officials violating the provisions of the law.

Andi Dobrushi, Executive Director of the Open Society Foundation for Albania, praised the cooperation among the different civil society actors, interest groups and state institutions.

Law No. 119/2014, which replaces a 1999 law, was adopted by Parliament Sept. 18, published in the Official Gazette Oct. 17 and will enter into force 15 days after its publication.

Dorian Matlija, a lawyer from the Res Publica centre in Tirana, was quoted in Balkan Insight as saying that the new law will speed up access to official documents and government data.

Matlija said the new law shortened the deadlines, speeded up the complaints process and instituted fines for officials who refuse information requests. The article says the new law “will also include a number of new concepts in regard to freedom of information requests, including reclassification of secret documents, and release of partial information and through maximal use of information technology.”

Gent Ibrahimi, a legal expert who participated in the drafting of the law, is quoted on the importance of introducing the concept of personal responsibility in the decision-making process of public officials. “Our legal and administrative culture is such that officials only implement what is prescribed by letter in the law – and this bill provides just that,” Ibrahimi said. “The sanctions prescribed in the law are a first for Albanian legislation,” he added.

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