The Open State Foundation reports that instead of waiting the legal maximum of 28 days, people submitting a ‘WOB’ freedom of information request typically have to wait 161. This, claims IMI, is ‘unbearably slow’ and a barrier to open government.
The new report analysed requests published by the national government between October 2020 and September 2021, with the exclusion of corona-related requests. These took even longer, with an average wait of 225 days.
‘You would expect that the government would follow its own laws, but this is absolutely not the case,’ Serv Wiemers, director of the Open State Foundation told NOS Radio 1 Journaal.
Last November, Kajsa Ollongren, then minister responsible for freedom of information, told parliament that there had long been problems with answering requests promptly but that this had become more visible during the pandemic.
Last year, the health ministry was reprimanded by a court for incorrectly handling Wob requests from the current affairs programme Nieuwsuur, although the high court subsequently said it had the right to use other processes to answer complex requests but should answer them quickly.
Although ministries vary in their efficiency, they all on average exceeded the legal 28 day limit – although this can be extended in the case of a complex request, by another 28 days under freedom of information laws and 14 days under a new freedom of government law, which will come into effect from May.
In addition, according to the research, around half of the requests were not published openly. Most, apparently, were not burdensome: only around one in seven required more than 250 pages of information and most required fewer than 50.
The researchers suggest that the situation could be worsening, compared with research from 2016 and 2019 showing that respectively 61% and 71% of requests were not fulfilled in time. Last year, that was 80%.
Meanwhile, in the first phase of a study published on Friday, the Amsterdam Rekenkamer Metropool supervisory body said that although the capital has clear aims around better openness and transparency, information about how to find answers is not readily accessible to citizens and there is a backlog of requests. There was no ‘job profile’ for Wob coordinators – spread across districts rather than organised centrally – until last month.
However, it said that Amsterdam’s handling of freedom of requests is better organised than its policy to actively share government information.
A Leiden University analysis of London, Miami and Stockholm, drawn up for the study, suggested that ‘there are cities where politicians and civil servants believe opennness is self-evident…Making information available on their own initiative is seen as the normal way of doing things, and experienced as an extra catalyst for cultural change from a closed government into an open one.’
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Source: Dutch News