When transparency goes only one way

Poles are given one week to weigh in on an important new transparency bill. The message, and the bill, are clear -- the government doesn't want feedback, it wants more power.

Zuzanna Piechowicz
Zuzanna Piechowicz Tok FM, Poland
Source: Tok FM
When transparency goes only one way - NewsMavens
A public discussion. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

"These are not public consultations. It is just a space provided by the government, in which NGOs can repeat what they already wrote in their opinions,” Wojciech Klicki from the Panoptykon Foundation told TOK FM. "It is an act of breaking the law,” claims Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć from Watchdog Polska.

NGOs are outraged by the manner in which the government is handling public consultations concerning the new transparency bill, though some say it is in fact a step forward. During the educational reform, which affected all Polish schools, the government did not offer public consultations at all.

The bill about transparency of public life is not a marginal issue. Prepared by one of the most influential politicians of the ruling party, the coordinator of secret service, Mariusz Kamiński, the new law broadens the spectrum of people who will have to submit assets declaration.

Civil servants, court’s employees, firemen, soldiers, civil guards -- in total 1,5 million people will be obliged to provide the government with a balance sheet that discloses all of their personal assets -- homes, valuables and financial portfolios, debts and mortgages, and all sources of income. That would be three times more people than are currently required to do so.

The bill will also regulate the status of so-called whistleblowers -- people who speak out about irregularities in the functioning of institutions, for example about corruption. It is going to be forbidden to lay them off without the consent of a prosecutor.

Notably, there is a provision in the law whose phrasing is remarkably unclear, and which could open the door to cherry-picking access to this transparency. It states that information about asset declarations can be denied when "an applicant requests it in an obstinate manner". An applicant denied his or her request will need to go to court to prove that the request was filed properly, and not in an "obstinate" manner -- it is hazy if the word is meant to function as a euphemism for "aggressive", and it could be interpreted in various manners by different judges.

Yes, this bill is a step towards improving transparency. But there's concern that this will mainly benefit the government, which is going to know more about the citizens. Sadly, it may not work the other way around.

Details from the story:

  • The Polish government has allowed for a week of public consultations concerning the bill about transparency of public life.
  • NGOs are warning that this is against the law.
  • According to the new bill, 1,5 million citizens – three times more than before -- will have to submit assets declaration.

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