Do not be afraid to ask…
Basic rules concerning access to information in Poland
Every each country in V4 has its own legislation regarding the access to information. In Poland the right to know is included in the Constitution (Article 61) and is very broad. It says that the citizens has a right to know on any activities of persons holding public positions and of the public institutions. The right is restricted only by other rights (e.g. privacy, entrepreneurial secret) and security of state. The procedure regarding access to public information is very simple and included in the Access to Information Act (2001). It looks as follows:
- The main means of getting information is proactive. All institutions that have to provide information, even if in only limited scope (e.g. as regards public funding only), have to run a special website tracking all changes. The website is named Public Information Bulletin.
- If the information is not proactively provided, the interested person can submit a request. This request can be informal, via e-mail also, with no need to explain why the requestor asks and what will be done with this information.
- The requested institution has up to 14 days to answer the request, with opportunity to prolong up to 2 months.
- The information is free of charge, sometimes some charges can be related to b of paper, flash stick etc.
- There right also include entry to sittings of collective organs of public authority formed by universal elections, with the opportunity to make sound and visual recordings.
- Since 2016 the protection of the right is given to administrative courts that is relatively fast (a few months to wait for the judgement) but very formal and does not allow to see the case in its all interesting aspects.
- Since the beginning of 2016, there is also a separate law on the re-use of public information (earlier, since 2011, it constituted part of the Access to Information Act)
- There is a growing reluctance of public institutions to reveal several information and expressed concerns that citizens request to much;
- Administration often uses all possible means to prolong procedures;
- There is a significant lobbing from the self-government’s professional associations to put restrictions on the number of requests, to introduces charges, to allow rejecting request that are found irrational, to introduce a concept of “internal” or “working” document;
- The courts worked out good jurisprudence at the beginning of 2000s but then the number of harmful rulings happened developing the concept of “internal document” that is only exiting in jurisprudence. Moreover it limits access to knowledge on decision-making process. The judiciary is too often more an ally of the administration than of the citizens.
People are asking mostly about investment in their communities, budgetary plans, rules of sharing subsidies for ecologic solutions, procedures connected with changes in the community, spending, procedures of employment for public institutions, housing policy; closing schools, community center or doctors’ office. Usually it is connected with some injustice that they observe and with the fact that they learn too late about important changes around. Sometimes they want to verify whether promises of the local politicians are mirrored in the budget.