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Public Institutions’ Websites – What They Say and What They Hide

22 February 2017
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Valentina Ursu, editor and journalist, Radio Free Europe

A government or authority that wants absolute control over every public penny spent should simply publish all information online. Nonprofit organizations, journalists, citizens can replace any verifying institution. Ensuring transparency with technology would also prevent rolling millstones over the country’s economy.

We note, however, that very many state institutions don’t meet transparency criteria, thus hindering access to information of public interest. You come to this conclusion after visiting their websites.

The portal of the presidential administration can be perceived as a source for promoting the head of state. It is updated only for PR purposes. Otherwise, it has nothing relevant, except, maybe, that Igor Dodon changed the official language of the presidential administration’s website from Romanian to Moldovan.

There is a section titled “TRANSPARENCY IN DECISION MAKING”, which includes several chapters, such as “Initiation of work on decisions”, “Draft Decisions”, “Adopted Decisions”, “Annual Reports”, “Regulations of Transparency in Decision Making”, but you can find no information there. People want a functional presidential administration, which would be open towards citizens, and its website could include a page where people could leave their messages.

At first glance, the parliament’s website seems to be approaching some modern standards. Only that information needs to be updated. For example, in the section of “TRANSPARENCY IN DECISION MAKING – Civil Society Organizations”, we find: the list of stakeholders interested in the legislative process systematized according to areas covered by the standing commissions of the Moldovan parliament, which dates back to July 13, 2010. In the section of “Relations with Citizens” I expected to find an e-mail address. But I learned that “Currently, the information system for management of petitions to the Moldovan Parliament (e-Petitions) is in test phase, after which implementation will follow.” As a journalist, I found that the agenda of plenary meetings often doesn’t include draft laws that are to be voted on.

The website of the Ministry of Interior reads: “Transparency: Institutional Framework, Public Consultations, Procurement.” The content does not match the names of sections. Information is outdated, and there is not much else. It is at least strange that there is not a single negative comment on the site. In addition, any user should be able to post an opinion. Interaction with users is almost nonexistent, and even though the page appears on social networks, too, opinions are not posted without having the administrator sifting them through.

The Ministry of Regional Development and Constructions of Moldova gives the impression of a forgotten project, as many of its pages are not updated. The section on control of activities hasn’t been updated since 2013, and the section on public procurement has nothing from 2013 until 2016.  

Things move slowly at the Ministry of Youth and Sport, too. Its section dedicated to transparency in decision making is underdeveloped and rarely updated. A similar situation is characteristic to agencies, in particular the “Moldsilva” Forestry Agency, the Land Relations and Cadastre Agency, the Tourism Agency, and the Bureau for Interethnic Relations.

The same is the situation on the website of Chisinau Mayor’s Office: it is a platform made to discourage you, so that you don’t find anything. For example, the section on roads and streets has a schedule for implementation of Chisinau streets rehabilitation dating from February 11, 2013, and nothing else since then.

The government’s strategy per ministry has among its first measures technological development of the country and of all companies that have public capital. Websites need to be updated, freshened, made user-friendly. On these portals we should see from how much they paid for a light bulb in Truseni village or for an A4 sheet in Budesti village to the number of employees at a public institution.

Here is something else: Last year, The Independent Journalism Center developed a draft law on modifying the Law on Access to Information, which was introduced as a legislative initiative to the Parliament by a group of independent MPs (voted in the first reading back in July 2016). It required reduction of the term in which a public official must respond to an information request from journalists – from 15 working days, as it is at present, to 10 calendar days. The law hasn’t reached examination in the second reading because government officials considered they would not manage to respond to journalists’ information requests within 10 calendar days. So, the more information public institutions post on their websites, the less questions and information requests they will get from journalists.
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The article was published within the Advocacy Campaigns Aimed at Improving Transparency of Media Ownership, Access to Information and promotion of EU values  and integration project, implemented by the IJC, which is, in its turn, part of the Moldova Partnerships for Sustainable Civil Society project, implemented by FHI 360.

This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content are the responsibility of author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Photo source: www.radioeuropalibera.org