Government closing in on freedom of information

On 30 of April, 2013, in an extraordinary process within 24 hours, the Hungarian Parliament adopted an amendment to the Act CXII of 2011 on the Right of Informational Self-Determination and Freedom of Information. The amendment is under the procedure of promulgation, it will be published in a couple of days and will enter into force on the day following the day of its publication.

According to the amendment, access to public interest data shall not equal to controlling data to the extent and in the depth supervisory authorities as specified in the law do. Obstructing citizens’ right to access public information reasoned by alleged abusive data requests resulting in an incommensurate workload of authorities and other bodies possessing such data as the explanation of the amending law says runs counter to what Transparency International Hungary, K-Monitor watchdog for public funds, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and atlatszo.hu investigative portal are struggling for.

Every citizen has the right to be informed about the spending of public money, a pivotal value in any democracy the amendment voted on in the Parliament calls into question. Passing an amendment reshaping the sphere of freedom of information in only two days is also unacceptable. Even more conspicuous is the fact that the amendment was proposed when civil society organisations requested access to the bids in a tender for tobacco retail licenses, which reportedly went to government party loyalists. Voting this law will allow public decision makers to get away with suspected bias and make corruption go unpunished.

The new, government friendly understanding of freedom of information enables users of public funds, mainly government offices and municipalities to keep the way they allocate public funds secret. This law contradicts the fundamental ethical norms in a democracy and places measures endeavored by the government as included in its anti-graft action plan into doubt.

Transparency International Hungary, K-Monitor watchdog for public funds, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and atlatszo.hu investigative portal are convinced that the amendment of the law on freedom of information discredits all previous stances of the government to stop corruption. Therefore we decided to quit the anti-corruption working group coordinated by the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration. We are still devoted to make Hungary a better society free of corruption, but we will not lend our reputation to the jiggery-pokery our government is doing in the anti-corruption arena.
The detailed analysis is here.

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