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news 22 Feb 12

Serbia's Public Information Act Tops Global Ranking

A group of experts has rated Serbia's public information act No 1 on the planet, though critics say wording is one thing, action another.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade

Serbia's Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance has scored 135 points out of 150, which places it on top of a list of world rankings of legislation on free access to information.  

The Spanish-based organisation Access Info and the US-based Centre for Law and Democracy, which carried out the research, have called Serbia's law strong and complete.

"It has a very well defined independent administrative body (The information Commissioner) and has scored a perfect punctuation in promotional measures. It has an excellent scope too," the organisations said in a joint statement.

When it comes to other Balkan countries, Croatia's legislation was ranked fifth, Macedonia 14th, Kosovo 15th, Bosnia and Herzegovina 24th, Montenegro 40th and Albania 81st.

The evaluation criteria included: the right to access, sending response procedures, exemptions, rejections, appeals, penalties and promotion of the law.

The Serbian parliament adopted the law in 2004 in response to growing pressure from experts and people.  

Rodoljub Sabic, Serbian Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, said the law matched international criteria but lacked full implementation.

"Some developed European countries have adopted such laws years ago, and the law there may be 'worse' but access to information in these countries is better," Sabic noted.

However, the large number of complaints received suggests that Serbs have recognised the importance both of this legislation and of the Commissioner. The Commissioner has now received more than 15,000 complaints in total.

In January alone, the Commissioner received 396 cases - 311 relating to access to information and 85 concerning protection of personal data.

Marko Milosevic, a researcher at the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, says one problem is that not all state bodies follow the law, though ministries tend to be most responsive.

"The lower the administrative organs, the worse the situation," Milosevic concluded.

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