FOI: Transparency International Attacks Proposed Hungarian Law

Transparency International (TI) said a proposed law in Hungary could sharply restrict the public’s access to information about government dealings, creating a serious risk corruption by public officials will go unchecked, insisting the law must not be passed.

The body, in a statement by its media office, believes the draft law, which could be voted on as early as 6 July, appears to be a misguided response by the Hungarian government to civil society’s earlier successful use of freedom of information tools to publicly expose government malpractice and questionable public spending.

According to TI, the proposed law creates uncertainty about how much a member of the public would be charged when making a freedom of information request, leaving open the possibility that filing the request would be very expensive.

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It follows a 2013 amendment that gave officials excessive scope to reject requests for public information.

“You cannot charge more than a nominal fee to
people who want to find out how their taxes are
being spent. This law opens the door to massive
costs related to public information requests and
is nothing less than an unfair tax on
transparency,” said Anne Koch, Director of
Europe and Central Asia at Transparency
International.

After accessing public information, TI Hungary
and Direkt36 were able to reveal the Minister of
the Prime Minister’s Office was spending lavish
amounts on foreign trips, including 1000 EUR per
night on hotel rooms, similar amounts for car
rentals and 1500 EUR on “incidentals”.

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Attempting to further restrict access to public
data would add to Hungary’s much criticized
track record of freedom of information, TI says.

On January 2012, the country’s former Data
Protection and Freedom of Information
Parliamentary Ombudsman’s tasks were
transferred to a newly established National
Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of
Information, which is an administrative body and
does not comply with the requirement of full
independence, as enshrined in European Union
data protection rules.

In April 2012, the European Commission referred
an infringement procedure against Hungary to
the Court of Justice of the European Union for
failure to correct the early termination of the
former data commissioner’s term. On April 8,
2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union
ruled that Hungary’s early termination of the
former parliamentary data commissioner’s term
was a violation of the law.

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“The government is quickly pushing Hungary
toward full state control of public information.
The right of citizens to access information is a
fundamental democratic value and Hungary must
uphold it to the fullest. Transparency
International calls on the Hungarian Parliament
to say no to limiting this basic human right,”
Koch said.

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