Office of the Council of Europe in Chișinău and the EU-funded Project “Support for structured policy dialogue, coordination of the implementation of the Association Agreement and enhancement of the legal approximation process in the Republic of Moldova” (hereinafter – Project), in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, organised on 9 and 10 June the international conference “Making right to information work in practice: from new law on access to information to institutional changes in the Republic of Moldova”.

The conference took place in the context of the elaboration by the Ministry of Justice of a new law on access to information, with the support of the European Union. The new Law on free access to public information will replace the current one from 2000 which does not provide satisfactory implementation.

“Access to information of public interest is an important human right and a tool for improving democratic governance. It strengthens public participation, accountability of public authorities and public confidence in the decision-making process. Currently, the European Union, through its EU-Moldova Association project, is assisting the Moldovan authorities in drafting a new law on free access to public information, which should help Moldova to build a good and transparent system of free access to public information that will work in practice.”

stated Jānis Mažeiks, Ambassador of the European Union to the Republic of Moldova.

One of the solutions addressed during the conference was the creation of an independent institution responsible for access to information (Information Commissioners). In this regard, representatives of Information Commissioners from Ireland, Slovenia, Albania as well as experts from Balkan countries shared their experience in enhancing the transparency of public bodies with the conference participants, analysed lesson learnt and explored the best practices that can be taken over and applied in the Republic of Moldova.

Representatives of the Project (Team Leader Primož Vehar and Senior Expert Dawid Sześciło) underlined that the creation of the Information Commissioner might be a gamechanger in terms of enhancing transparency culture among public institutions. Such body, operating both as appeal institution and compliance control authority, would also play crucial role in raising awareness among the citizens about their right to information.

“Access to public information and the enforcement of this right is a key feature of good governance and an indicator of whether or not a society is genuinely democratic and pluralist. However, in many Council of Europe member States, including the Republic of Moldova, existing legal framework on access to information does not meet the needs of the current reality. To this end, the entry into force last year of the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (Tromsø Convention), after a waiting period of 10 years, marks an important stepping-stone for the Republic of Moldova.”,

noted Patrick Penninckx, Head of Information Society Department, Council of Europe.

The conference participants discussed the key shortcomings of the current legislative framework and practice, including the ratified Council of Europe Trømso Convention which already entered into force and requires legislative changes on introducing proactive transparency, upgrade the procedural issues, clearly setting up of definitions and setting up a defined boundary between free access to public info and personal data protection.

“The right of access to information is a constitutional right, and the right of access to information is a precondition for exercising other political, economic and social rights. At the same time, we must ensure that the mass media is not unduly restricted in obtaining access to information of public interest, and that abuses which have been documented must be eradicated. Furthermore, in the context of the fight against corruption, it is of utmost necessity to ensure guarantees of the right to information that encourage transparency, which subsequently mitigates corruption. It is the intention of the Ministry of Justice to simplify as much as possible the procedure for obtaining information of public interest and to ensure access for all to information of public interest, especially for mass media. This is the only way to provide accurate and timely information.”,

emphasised Sergiu Litvinenco, Minister of Justice.

The conference brought together over a hundred representatives of public authorities, Information Commissioners, NGOs and media representatives. The stakeholders involved identified the most appropriate legislative and institutional solutions to improve the transparency of public institutions and access to information in the Republic of Moldova. As a follow up, it was agreed that the EU-Moldova Association will continue its support to the Ministry of Justice in drafting the new law on access to public information.