The Decree On the Election of Representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations into the Working Bodies of the State Administration Bodies states that public debate in the preparation of laws and strategies is conducted by consulting bodies, organizations, associations and individuals in the initial phase of drafting the law or strategy; and by organizing a public debate on the text of the draft law or strategy.

The authorized Ministry shall publish on its website and e-Government portal, within 15 days from the day of adoption of the annual work program, a list of laws and strategies that will prepare a public debate in their organization, a brief explanation of the need to adopt a law or strategy and other information from importance for the preparation of the law or strategy. In addition, a draft paper should be uploaded along with the Call.

The existing Law on Free Access to Information regulates that every domestic and foreign physical and legal entity has the right to access information, without obligation to state the reasons and explain the interest of seeking information. Every national and local body and institution is obliged to have Guidelines for Access to Information on their websites. The body may limit or deny access to information if asked information is a business or state secret, or in cases of: protection of privacy from disclosure of information provided by the law governing the protection of personal data; security, defense, foreign, monetary and economic policies of Montenegro; prevention of the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of criminal offenses to protect against disclosure of information; performing official duty; protection of trade and other economic interests. The institution must provide answer for the requested information, 15 days from the day the request is received by the institution, at latest. If the answer is not provided, entity that requested information may appeal to the Agency for protection of personal information and access to information.

The Law prescribes monetary sanctions if the information is not provided, if it is provided after the deadline, or if it was not created in accordance with the law. In addition, the Agency for protection of personal data and free access to information will be sanctioned if it doesn’t act on the complaint. In 2019, Agency for Protection of personal Data and Free Access to Information received 1715 appeals. 412 appeals referred the silence of the institution from which the information was requested, while 424 appeals were dismissed due to the institution providing information.

0 – 20 Fully disabling environment20 – 40 Disabling environment
40 – 60 Partially enabling environment60 – 80 Enabling environment
80 – 100 Fully enabling environment

The topics that raised many concerns in terms of limitation of freedom of expression are the new draft Law on free access to information and the Law on data secrecy. Many domestic CSOs and media, as well as international community, are warning that, if adopted, the new law would be unconstitutional. According to Article 51 of the Constitution, access to information can be denied if it is in interest of protecting life, public health, moral and privacy, conducting criminal proceedings, foreign, monetary and economic policy. The new draft law includes new restrictions that are not in according with the Constitution and that would severely limit possibility to exercise this constitutional right. According to critics, particularly problematic is the provision where public officials can determine which information is of public interest and therefore the public has access to it. Another problematic provision is that a request for free access to information can be declined if it requires too many information.  It is clear that these provisions significantly increase limitations much more than those in the Constitution and leave a lot of space for subjective interpretations.

The portal of e-Government contains four sectors: public debates, consultations, working groups and announcements. Every state body publishes call for one of these sectors along with the draft law/document. Based on information available on e-participation websites, there were 60 calls for public debates in 2019, whereas the draft document was published in 38 cases. Only 24 reports on the public debate were published. Any physical or legal entity is able to publish comments or suggestions through this portal. There were 45 calls for consultations, whereas eight draft documents were published and nine reports on the consultations.

29.2% of the organizations that participated in online questionnaire reported they requested free access to information. Out of these organizations, 78.6% reported they received the requested information. 28.6% received information within the deadline prescribed by law; and 14.3% report receiving answer in clear format. On the contrary, 21.4% of organizations received clear information on why the request was denied; while 7.1% did not get any additional explanation. 14.3% of organizations were informed about the possibility to appeal due to the denial of access to information.

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