Hungary Proposes Higher Fees, Longer Response Times

2 July 2015

The Hungarian government has proposed a bill (in Hungarian) to hike fees for freedom of information requests and to double the length of the response period from 15 to 30 days.

The new rules also would permit refusal of requests on the grounds that documents are “preparatory” or the copyright of third persons. Repeat requests could be even if initial requests have not been answered. Requests from third countries could be denied. (See report in K Monitor.)

Hungarian blog Kett?s Mérce (Double Standard) criticized the government’s reasoning regarding the proposal, according to an article in The Budapest Beacon.

Kett?s Mérce blogger András Jámbor wrote: “The [government’s] train of thought in support of charging for the service of completing [Freedom of Information] requests is laughable because contracts and data must be made public anyway. This is what otherwise guarantees that citizens can trust that the state is not just stealing all the taxpayers’ money. This is what transparency is all about. However, the government wants the opposite, it does not want to provide this guarantee. We continue to see more and more cases in which they are stealing our money and giving it to their friends.’

Miklós Ligeti, Legal Director for Transparency International Hungary, told Budapest Beacon that the proposed law “empowers state organs and state-owned enterprises to arbitrarily demand that citizens who request information in the public interest pay for the expenses associated with managing and processing the data they are requesting.”

“Neither the proposed law or any other regulation sets barriers or limitations to any such demands,” Ligeti said. “The proposed law says that such payments shall be made in proportion to the workload that results from servicing the public information requests. Some government agencies and state-owned enterprises pay outstanding salaries to their employees,” Ligeti said, meaning that the government could come up with fees based on the salary of a manager who spends time servicing a data request.

“There is a definite possibility that the state will demand incommensurate amounts of money from citizens to service these information requests….Making the payment of large sums of money a prerequisite for servicing public interest information requests undoubtedly creates administrative obstacles for citizens trying to access public data,” he said.

“It is high time that the EU and the global open government community took seriously the threats to democracy in Hungary,” commented Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info in a statement about the bill.

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