Hungarian NGOs attack curbs on Freedom of Information

9 May 13
Hungarian non-governmental organisations have warned that changes to limit the scope of the country’s Freedom Of Information Act could increase corruption.

Transparency International Hungary, public spending watchdog K-Monitor, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and investigative reporting website yesterday announced that they were quitting a government-run anti-corruption working group in protest at the law changes.

Their concerns relate to an amendment to Hungary’s Freedom of Information Act tabled by two MPs from the governing Fidesz party on April 28 and passed on April 30 by a special sitting of the country’s Parliament.

According to the NGOs, the amendment introduces major limits on citizens’ right to access public information by allowing two public bodies – the State Audit Office and Government Control Office – to deny FoI requests if they require large amounts of data.

Citizens will also be required to set out a legitimate interest in their requests for information on decisions of public bodies, court cases or the personal information of public officials, all of which were, until now, in the public domain.

By not defining what constitutes a large amount of data or a legitimate interest, the amendment gives public bodies leeway to reject information requests, the NGOs claimed.

Miklós Ligeti, legal director at Transparency International Hungary, said: ‘This amendment is the first step down a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is full state control of public information. It heralds a dark age for democratic governance in Hungary.

‘The law will now allow government officials to get away with bias in their actions and could see corruption go unseen and unpunished in future.’

The NGOs noted that the amendment had been proposed as civil society groups had pushed for access to tenders for tobacco retail licences that reportedly went to government party loyalists.

They warned that, under the amendment, these requests could be rejected. Government offices, councils and other public bodies would be able to keep the way they allocate public money secret, they added.

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