Press Release
May 16, 2007

Amendments to the Access to Public Information Act Passed First Reading in the Bulgarian National Assembly

On May 10, 2007, the draft amendments to the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) were approved after first reading.

The amendments to the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) were introduced by three MPs, members of three different parliamentary groups -
the Coalition for Bulgaria, the National Movement Simeon the Second (from the ruling coalition), and the Bulgarian People's Union, on February 28, 2007.

The amendments were justified with the need to transpose the Directive 2003/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Re-use of Public Sector Information. However, they would weaken the access regime of APIA.

The draft introduces a definition of “public sector information” and of “public sector bodies”. These definitions overlap with the existing definitions of “public information” and “bodies obliged to provide it.” The amendments also introduce a parallel procedure for access to “public sector
information for re-use”. Therefore, the door would be opened for broad interpretation and misinterpretation of APIA by the public administration.

Other main problems in the proposal are:

* the existing regime provides a right of everyone to obtain information without proving his/her legal interest, while the amendments provide that requestors shall be required to prove legal interest in the requested information;
* the existing regime obliges public administration to provide partial access, while the amendments state that public authorities are not
obliged to provide partial access;
* the existing regime provides for a period of 14 calendar days for replying to requests, while the amendments introduce 20 working days;
* the existing regime provides a fee that does not exceed the actual costs incurred, while the amendments introduce “reasonable” fees, approved
by the Council of Ministers.

The proposed amendments jeopardize the seven years of continuous efforts of the civil society, media, courts, and public administration for better
implementation of APIA. Instead of improving the law by introducing more strict duties on public institutions for active dissemination of information, the proposed amendments put more burden on information seekers.

The Bulgarian National Assembly approved the draft amendments after first reading despite:

* critical statements submitted by Access to Information Programme (AIP) and supported by 1100 journalists, NGOs representatives, politicians,
representatives of public administration, MPs; statements by other non-governmental organizations and a coalition of environmental groups;
* critical articles published in the media and the lack of relevant response to the expressed criticism;
* lack of a consultation process and public debate on the proposed amendments, which is the natural practice in all European Union
* the concern of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, expressed formally by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the
Media, Miklos Haraszti;
* the negative position of the Parliamentary State Administration Affairs Committee;
* information from Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic refuting the arguments of the MPs, who have introduced the draft law, that
Directive 2003/98/EC was introduced by similar amendments to the FOI laws in these countries;
* evidence that the proposed amendments were prepared as part of a 15-day contract for the amount of 14,500 BGN (7 250 Euro) between a
Government agency and an organization unknown to the FOI community.

In the week of 7-11 May 2007, MPs from one of the opposition parties in the National Assembly - the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) - introduced alternative amendments in the APIA, addressing the real points of the law to be improved. Obligations on the public institutions to actively disseminate information online, to appoint civil servants to work on the implementation of the law and to organize effective control and sanctioning procedure were proposed. These draft amendments will also transpose the Directive 2003/98/EC properly.

This week, MPs from the UDF introduced a proposal to dismiss a number of the provisions which already passed first reading with detailed arguments why they do not improve the APIA, but would rather have a clear reverse effect on its implementation and hence on government transparency.

The latter draft amendments were prepared by the AIP team and were introduced to the National Assembly by an MP from the UDF.

Access to Information Programme Team

English Version • Last Update: 18.05.2007 • © 1999 Copyright by Interia & AIP