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Transparency and accountability of public institutions to citizens is at an unsatisfactory level. Out of a total of 89 monitored public institutions (15 are ministries), less than half, i.e. 35 responded to over 90% of the requests for access to public information. Additionally, out of 25 analyzed institutions, none of them has publicly published all the documents related to the budget expenditures, in accordance with the Law on Free Access to Public Information. Only the Government and the Ministry of Finance published over 40% of the documents, while the other 23 institutions are proactively non-transparent. These are the conclusions from the research on reactive and proactive transparency in public institutions in 2019, which was presented at today’s public debate, organized by the Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women – ESE.

The event, which took place on the day of the International Day “I have the right to know”, was addressed by the Executive Director of the Foundation Open Society – Macedonia, Fani Karanfilova – Panovska. She stressed that increasing the level of transparency of institutions has a positive impact in terms of democratization of the country because it allows citizens to control the institutions.

Accountable and open institutions for the inclusion of all citizens are one of the components of an open society. Therefore, the long-term strategic commitment of the Foundation Open Society – Macedonia is to promote the rule of law, and special attention is paid to promoting accountability and openness of institutions. Openness has many benefits: it is a precondition for democracy, citizens receive information and knowledge on how to participate in political life; there is freedom of critical thought; the authorities are responsible for the decisions made; citizens are free to demand accountability from the institutions for the policies they implement; there is a rule of law, human rights are respected. The purpose of access to information is to enable citizens to see how the government works, i.e. to be able to detect corruption or mismanagement in policymaking, as well as to be able to make informed decisions.

“The Foundation participated and contributed to the creation of the national strategy for transparency, the national strategy for dealing with corruption, the development of the action plan for open government partnership which covers seven important areas, including fiscal transparency. At the same time, the importance of the continuous support that FOSM provides to civil society organizations in order to monitor the implementation of policies and advocate for change is no less important. We support organizations in applying new and innovative methodologies to enable communication between citizens and public institutions, as well as strengthening the capacity of citizens to independently recognize violations in this area and seek change. We support activities for assessing the level of transparency and accountability of public institutions in areas that are essential for quality life and well-being of citizens, such as education, health and the environment.

We, as FOSM, are careful to provide support for strengthening the citizens who are marginalized and powerless to deal with the inability to access the institutions and to exercise their rights and access to basic public services. FOSM supports activities for educating the citizens for recognizing irregularities and injustices as well as public events that highlight the problems in this area, propose and seek solutions to overcome them. We are very proud of the initiative and support we gave to the students from the Faculty of Law in Skopje. In order to educate them about the right to free access to information, we advocated for the establishment of an elective course on this issue, we supported a teaching aid and a legal clinic for free access, to provide students with internships and practical work.”

At the same time, Fani Karanfilova – Panovska emphasized the fact that the Foundation encourages and participates in the creation and functioning of several networks, platforms and coalitions for joint appearance before institutions, such as – Network of Organizations for Open Government Partnership, Network for protection against discrimination or the Anti-Corruption Network.

“There is a key setback in 2019 compared to 2018 in receiving answers through a regular procedure, i.e. the answers have been reduced from 87 percent to 80 percent. This means that the institutions are less respectful of the law, i.e. they provide less information in a regular procedure. There is also a setback in the average response period, which has increased from 68 to 74 days,” said Darko Antic, ESE program coordinator.

“Basic information is not available, and some institutions do not even have a website. The most recent example is the student dormitory Pelagonija, where we asked for information about our research on the student standard and we saw that it does not have its own website where we can find the necessary data “, said Petar Barlakovski, program coordinator at YEF.

The participants in the debate pointed out that the promotion of transparency, accountability and participation in the work of the public sector is crucial for the future development of the country, especially in order to meet the criteria that are part of the negotiations for membership in the European Union.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a new momentum in terms of fiscal transparency, i.e. increasing civilian oversight and control over budget funds, whether they have been spent for the intended purpose and whether they have reached the end-users for which they were intended,” said Helen Turek. Chief Regional OGP Coordinator for Europe.

The direct participants in the work of the institutions expect improvement in this segment, given the measures taken in the last few years, in the direction of greater transparency to the citizens.

“It is most difficult to change the work culture in the institutions. It is a great challenge to explain to the officials to whom this is not their main job obligation that this information does not belong to the ministry but to the citizens. However, we have a strategic approach, articulated desire in a written word that can be followed and ultimately here is the Transparency Strategy that should cover all areas,” said Gordana Gapic Dimitrovska, State Adviser at the Ministry of Information Society and Administration.

The main recommendations of ESE to encourage the openness of institutions is to raise awareness of the importance of this issue among public sector employees, but also among citizens and companies, as well as to take steps to review government measures to improve the transparency of institutions.

The project for assessing the transparency of public institutions is supported by the European Union and the Foundation Open Society – Macedonia.