Slovenian Parliament Defeats Plan to Raise Request Costs

17 December 2015

The Slovenian Parliament has rejected a proposed amendment that would have allowed public officials to charge for their time in answering freedom of information requests.

The vote was a victory in a longstanding effort to resist government efforts to insinuate labor charges into the cost structure.

The amendment was opposed by the Slovenian information commissioner and by a number of national and European groups.

Slovenia’s information commissioner, Mojca Prelesnik, provided with detailed background on the issue:

Indeed, the Information Commissioner has fought for many years against the practice of charging for the work of public officials. This practice doesn’t have the basis in the law, but it still got spread through the back door. Namely, the Slovenian Access to Public Information Act (APIA) only allows the material costs to be charged, but the implementing regulation to the APIA includes the following provision: “The body shall set a price for material cost once a year so that it considers the average market prices for services of information provision and average labour cost price, as well as depreciation of the equipment of the body.” The Ministry for Public Administration is responsible for giving its consent to such price lists. Even if the law only allows for “material costs” to be charged, the Ministry gave consent to such price lists that also included labour costs. Our hands were tied, because the Commissioner is bound by the implementing act; there is no “exceptio illegalis” for us. The Commissioner warned against this practice each year in its annual reports and issued several press releases.

A previous amendment to the APIA tasked the Ministry with preparing a joint price list for all the bodies, which was supposed to eliminate the practice by which the bodies “infiltrated” labour costs in their individual price lists. This joint price list has not been adopted yet.

Not only did the practice not change and the joint price list was not adopted, the Government recently attempted to adopt an amendment to the APIA that would enable the bodies to charge for the work of public officials (this time, this would be a provision in the law). The proposed amendment entailed that the bodies could charge not only for the “material costs” anymore, but instead for the “costs that stem directly from the preparation and transmission of the copies to the requester”. This would clearly include the labour costs.

The Commissioner was actively involved in the legislative process. We wrote an official appeal to all the MPs, published several policy recommendations and press releases, and cooperated with the representatives of the media and NGOs to get this proposed amendment withdrawn. With joint forces we succeeded. On the day of the second reading of the proposed amendments of the APIA, this particular amendment was rejected by the MPs.

There is uncertainty regarding the future; we will probably now be waiting for the joint price lists (mentioned above) for some time and hope this will completely eliminate any doubts regarding the possibility of charging for the labour costs.

Opposition by Groups

The proposal was opposed by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) together with its affiliate, the Slovenian Journalists’ Association (DNS)Transparency International Slovenia and Access Info Europe.

In a joint statement sent to Slovenian parliamentarians, the groups warned that the charges “will grossly affect the ability of journalists, media and NGOs to carry out their roles as watchdogs in the public interest.”

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the EFJ President said, “The additional financial burden on journalists will affect the ability of journalists and news organisations to carry out investigative journalism.”

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