Organized by the Metamorphosis Foundation, the 15th International Conference “e-Society.mk – Open Institutions and Accountability” started today.
The two-day conference at Holiday Inn is the closing event of the four-year project ACTION SEE (Accountability, Technology and Institutional Openness Network in the South East Europe region) in which seven Western Balkan and UK organizations have joined efforts to promote and ensure the accountability and transparency of the authorities in the South-East European region.
The main objective of the project is to increase the involvement of civil society and media organizations in decision-making and policy-making processes, as well as to increase the capacity of civil societies to address sensitive issues.
The conference was attended by the Minister without portfolio in charge of Communications, Accountability and Transparency, Robert Popovski, who emphasized that through the openness and accountability of the institutions, the Government is trying to restore the citizens’ trust in reducing corruption and irregularities in their work. He emphasized that the Strategy for Transparency of the Government 2020 – 2021, which will be presented in more detail tomorrow, has been created together with the NGO sector and has a wide coverage, i.e. there is no institution that is accountable to the Government and is not covered by this Strategy. “Implementation of the strategy will be monitored by a working group comprised of people from the NGO sector, the media and the business community,” Popovski said.
Fani Karanfilova Panovska from the Foundation Open Society Macedonia said that the Strategy for Transparency of the Government aims to consolidate institutions’ efforts to upgrade instruments and tools in order to ensure greater transparency and access to public information.
According to Karanfilova Panovska, the working group that will monitor the implementation of the Strategy will encourage CSOs and the media to independently monitor implementation, make proposals for upgrades, as the document is a living matter that needs updating.
Regarding the transparency and accountability of government institutions, Karanfilova Panovska called for greater transparency in the allocation of state funds to CSOs. As she said, there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the decision-making process to which CSOs will receive funds by ministries, how the money is spent, etc.
As a second important point, Karanfilova Panovska pointed out that the institutions are lagging behind in providing information under the Law on Free Access to Public Information. They do not respond to requests, so in the second half of 2018, one-fifth of requests remained unanswered.
“This is due to the fact that the Commission for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information which is supposed to respond to complaints is not fully staffed and has not been functioning for a whole year, thus delaying the appeals process. No Agency for Free Access to Public Information has been established, which should control the openness of institutions for access to public information and I urge the Committee on Election and Appointment to start functioning and to establish the Agency,” said Karanfilovska Panovska.
The head of the Department for Cooperation at the Delegation of the European Union, Nikola Bertolini, said that citizens cannot find what they are looking for and what is normal in the EU is not normal here. “We are in a situation where the Parliament does not appoint the leadership of the Agency. Why? I know that a director or head of the Commission for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information has not been appointed. The Minister of Information Society and Administration Damjan Manchevski told me that he must appoint a first-person in order to pay the salaries. Why is this not working? ” asked Bertolini.
The director of the Metamorphosis Foundation, Bardil Jashari, emphasized that although the openness and accountability of the institutions are very important, concrete actions, changing the laws and changing the procedures in the institutions are more important for the citizens to feel the benefits and to receive quality services leading to a better life.
He added that it was not enough just to comment and conclude but to take concrete actions, and therefore stressed that it was important to carry out quality analyzes at the local level, and the authorities there are the most closed.
Therefore, as Jashari pointed out, in order to improve services at the local level, the scheme given to 35 NGOs at the local level is very important, as they are best aware of the problems at the local level and hence with the help of the media to work on specific issues problems and improve the principles of good governance.
At the second panel of the conference entitled “4 years of advocating for open institutions and transparency”, Milena Gvozdenovic of the Center for Democratic Transition, which is part of the ACTION SEE regional project, said the results show that at the regional level, parliaments meet 65% of the openness criteria, the executive power meets 49%, the local government units 36%, and the courts 42%.
The recommendation of this panel is that all countries in the region should provide access to information and should not have a monopoly on it.
The conference coincides with the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Metamorphosis Foundation.