The official communication, which began in February of this year with a request for information addressed to the Albanian Development Fund regarding reconstruction expenditures, came to an end on Monday with a court decision that essentially sided with “Faktoje,” despite the fact that the Information and Data Protection Commissioner was the actual defendant party. Although taking such cases to court is a known trick used by institutions to delay information provision, the recent court decision marks a new step in the positive approach toward the media and transparency.
The Albanian Development Fund lost the trial against the Information and Data Protection Commissioner, who had requested the former to provide “Faktoje” with the information regarding the reconstruction process (click here to read the request content).
This decision by the Commissioner prompted the ADF, the agency in charge of managing and implementing projects involving over 1400 construction sites in earthquake-affected areas, to take the Commissioner to the Administrative Court on the grounds of a biased decision.
The first hearing regarding the lawsuit was carried out on September 23 in the Administrative Court, led by Judge Arbena Ahmeti. “Faktoje” was a third party to this case, but due to the absence of the journalist Joel Çela, who was involved in the official communications with the two institutions (ADF and the Information and Data Protection Commissioner), the judge did not allow any representatives of “Faktoje” to attend the hearing, neither as media representatives, nor as audience.
“Faktoje” even submitted a request to the court concerning the attendance of its journalists as media, but this request was also rejected.
The request of “Faktoje” addressed to the court on September 23 to attend the hearing as media
Court’s reply rejecting the participation of “Faktoje’s” journalists in the hearing
Despite this rejection, “Faktoje” awaited at the court the conclusion of the second hearing held on September 27, where the decision to reject the lawsuit of the ADF against the Information and Data Protection Commissioner, represented in the process by Ms. Silvana Sata, was issued.
Courtroom in question
This decision marks a victory in the journey of “Faktoje” to evoke the transparency and accountability of public institutions or entities that manage the funds of Albanian taxpayers, as is the Albanian Development Fund. According to practice, the latter has 15 days available to appeal the “loss” in the first instance court. On the other hand, taking the case to the Administrative Court of Appeals simply delays the provision of the requested information, as the lawyer of the “Res Publica” center, Irena Dule, has previously explained to “Faktoje”:
“Public bodies do not generally observe the right to information, particularly when the requested information is sensitive. In principle, there is no issue with taking the Commissioner’s Office to court for a decision considered unfair or infringing on a different interest; however, taking such cases to court aims to ensure activity continuation without transparency, because, while the trial is under process, the Commissioner’s Decision can’t be executed and the information can be withheld. Therefore, being taken to court is a trick to obtain time until both the journalist and the public lose interest in the information.”
However, the latest decision marks another step in the positive approach of the court toward the media. In September of last year, “Faktoje” filed lawsuits against several key state institutions, ministries, the Prime Minister’s Office, the President’s Office, and the Parliament, which refused to provide the expenditure invoices concerning the official trips abroad of their leaders.
A few months later, “Faktoje” won against most of the institutions taken to court, part of which did provide the requested documents, while the remaining institutions are still under trial at the Administrative Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, the President’s Office continues to refuse transparency despite the Bailiff Office, pursuant to the court decision, requesting the provision of the expenditure invoices of its leader’s trips abroad for the period of January 2018 to June 2019.