Next week, the Dutch parliament will consider a proposal to expunge a penalty on governments when they fail to take decisions on FOIA and re-use of public sector information requests. It’s a last resort for re-users and citizens to force government agencies to take decisions in time.
This proposal will be discussed before the Senate has decided on the new transparency bill that was by the Dutch parliament recently. The proposal that wants to leave governments off the hook when they fail to decide on requests by citizens comes at a time when governments fail to implement the law on the re-use of government information that went into force in August 2015.
After 6 months, still no decision
Six months ago, Open State Foundation filed a request to re-use information on farm subsidies. The information on EU farm subsidies is already public but not in an open format, as described by the law on re-use of government information. The information has been made public via the RVO website but not as open data. Countries such as Belgium (CSV), the United Kingdom (XLS) and Latvia (CSV) already publish this information as datasets.
However, until today the Dutch Enterprise Agency which falls under the Ministry of Economic Affairs was not able to decide on our request. After correspondence with this agency and eventually giving notice, there was still no decision. According to the department of the agency that deals with FOIA requests, our request was the first on the basis of the law adopted in August 2015. The agency had not finalised internal procedures and therefore the decision on our request has to be made by the Minister of Economic Affairs himself.
Also a request to re-use government information held by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority is due to this failure also waiting several months for a decision. This failure might force us eventually to go to court.
When governments have their processes and digital archives in good order, most requests can be completed almost instantly. Even if there was a working public information registry, taking a decision would not have to take much time. As long as this is not the case and as long as the new transparency law has not yet been adopted and evaluated, the expunction of the penalty sum, aborts an important remedy in the hands of civilians.