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NISPAcee panel at ASPA conference, New Orleans, March 17th, 2013

Dacian C. Dragos

 
 

On March 17th, 2013, NISPAcee has hosted a special panel at ASPA conference, New Orleans, under the theme Openness and accountability in CEE: building sustainable governance?

 
 

The convener, prof. Dacian Dragos from the Center for Good Governance Studies at Babes Bolyai University, Romania, introduced the panel by presenting in short the background of cooperation between NISPAcee and ASPA and the future initiatives of the two organizations. A special attention was given to the ASPA panel that will be hosted at the NISPAcee conference in Belgrade this year.

 
 

The registered panellists included academics from different members of NISPAcee: prof. Polona Kovac, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, prof. Andras Patyi, National University for Civil Service, Budapest, Hungary, prof. Patrycja Suwaj, University Bialystok, Faculty of Law, Poland and prof. Bogdana Neamtu, Babes Bolyai University, Cluj Napoca, Romania.

The panel objectives were to discuss specifics of transparency in CEE countries, based on empirical research conducted in several legal systems from this region. It is well known that since the dismantling of the communist regime in Central and Easter European Countries, dramatic changes have occurred in those countries’ economics, culture, politics, etc. Despite the common communist heritage, reforms developed differently, and part of the transition process was the creation of institutions that were unfamiliar to these countries. One of the problems widely discussed in the context of transition in Central and Eastern Europe is the problem of corruption, and based on scholarly investigations, the adoption of a certain institution and/or laws have had in fact a positive impact on controlling/curbing corruption. In this context,FOIAs (Freedom of Information Acts) and Sunshine Laws have a significant influence on corruption, and are considered widely as one of the instruments that actually work in the fight against corruption. Once adopted, the implementation of FOIA and Sunshine Laws depends on activism from mass media and civil society which are pro-active actors on the demand side of transparency and openness. Adopting and implementing FOIAs is often portrayed as the cornerstone of advancing good governance, the catch phrase of modern administrative sciences.

 
 

The panel aimed to contribute to an assessment of how the practice of transparency may have an influence on reducing corruption in CEE countries for the benefit of citizens and civil society organizations, and how those recipients make use of such procedures, giving the different societal context in which they are implemented (for instance, considering the rural – urban divide).

 
 

The paper of prof. Polona Kovac looked at how transparency laws and mechanisms are implemented in several countries from ex-Yougoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. Access to personal data and public information in the relations with authorities is considered a fundamental principle and a societal value of a modern, democratic community. Most countries in the region regulate such institution by law, making a distinction between access to the file and access to public information. The paper provided a normative and comparative study of the regulation of such issues in Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia, and analysed the dilemmas arising from the practical implementation thereof. In the selected countries, the degree of awareness of the need for open administration and good governance is rather high, yet regulation alone does not suffice and should be followed by effective implementation. As indicated by the analysis of cases brought to court, implementation leaves room for further development into – as suggested by the author – a single right to information i.e. the right to know. Such right should be defined in a general administrative code reflecting the trends and challenges faced by Eastern European countries setting up a system of good public governance while undergoing processes of transition, modernization and Europeanization.

 
 

The paper of Bogdana Neamtu and Dacian Dragos investigated the implementation status of Aarhus Convention in Romania by a) examining if the provisions from the national legislation are in line with the requirement of the Convention; and b) empirically analyzing how implementation is either hindered or helped by the existing legal and administrative culture and practices surrounding access to information, participation, and access to justice in environmental matters. The main conclusion of the authors is that by examining the legal provisions in place, the reader will likely get only half the story – despite the fact that Romania seems very progressive in terms of its legislation in this field, numerous challenges occur during implementation. Public authorities view participation as a hassle, something they need to comply with by doing the minimum required by law and not being proactive. Citizens’ demand for transparency and openness in government is weak, as they lack trust in state institutions, including courts, and harbor the belief that they cannot change the course of governmental affairs. Courts, in their turn, aggravate this situation by means of lengthy court proceedings and lack of a proper remedy system. In order to enhance implementation the authors argue that the role of environmental NGOs is critical – they need to continue to be involved in identifying deficiencies in the application of the Convention, coupled with more severe sanctions for the institutions that do not comply.

 
 

The other two papers (from Hungary and Poland) looked at the specific challenges of promoting transparency in public administration in CEE countries. Unfortunately, due to objective circumstances, the authors were not able to present the papers themselves.

The presentations were very well received and were followed by vivid discussions. Interesting questions from the audience were raised, and insightful feedback was given by discussants such as Assist. Prof. Alexander C. Henderson, Long Island University, and Patrick Bell, PhD at Florida International University. The panel constituted a good occasion to foster the relation between the two organizations from US and Central and Eastern Europe.