Ignoring calls from anti-corruption NGOs, President János Áder (pictured) today signed into law modifications to Hungary’s freedom of information legislation that now permit the government and state-owned entities to charge arbitrarily determined sums of money to fulfill freedom of information requests and extend the legally required response period from 15 to 30 days.
Anti-corruption NGOs and government watchdog groups have been critical of the bill on grounds that it would make Hungary’s already shaky freedom of information system a lot less free.
The bill, which was hastily adopted by parliament as an extraordinary piece of legislation, was widely criticized by civil society during the short period it spent in parliament. NGOs called on its author, the Interior Ministry, to consider revisions but to no avail.
“There is a definite possibility that the state will demand incommensurate amounts of money from citizens to service these information requests . . . making the payment of large sums of money a prerequisite for servicing public interest information requests undoubtedly creates administrative obstacles for citizens trying to access public data,” says Miklos Ligeti, Legal Director for Transparency International Hungary.
The bill was approved by parliament last week in a vote that split along party lines, prompting NGOs to call on President Áder to reject it. Despite the concerns from civil society, he signed the law into action today.