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NO LAW CLEARLY GOVERNS THE DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION ON STATE STIMULI TO INVESTORS

Who has the right to know?

CONCEALING information on stimuli to foreign investors coming to Slovakia violates the law on the free access to information, claims a recent analysis prepared by the country's Justice Ministry.
The document raised temperatures within the ruling coalition after Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic said the government should declassify information on the state stimuli. He argued that the ministers might violate the law by keeping the information confidential.
"I think that publishing the information on the stimuli is not a matter of the cabinet deciding on the issue, but rather respecting the law," Lipšic said.

CONCEALING information on stimuli to foreign investors coming to Slovakia violates the law on the free access to information, claims a recent analysis prepared by the country's Justice Ministry.

The document raised temperatures within the ruling coalition after Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic said the government should declassify information on the state stimuli. He argued that the ministers might violate the law by keeping the information confidential.

"I think that publishing the information on the stimuli is not a matter of the cabinet deciding on the issue, but rather respecting the law," Lipšic said.

Originally, the Economy Ministry had requested that the information on investment stimuli to foreign companies be classified based on the request of investors.

Lipšic's move angered Economy Minister Pavol Rusko, who said he did not oppose the content of the analysis but rather the way it was presented.

"It should have been submitted as a joint document, not presented in the media as something that could somehow alter the [Economy] Ministry's decisions," Rusko told the news wire TASR.

The Justice Ministry defended its procedure.

"The legal analysis is published and freely accessible on the internet site of the Slovak Cabinet Office and the Justice Ministry. At the same time, Minister Lipšic informed the members of the cabinet that he was preparing and planning to submit a legal analysis on publishing materials submitted to the cabinet. Over the past week, no one from the Economy Ministry has contacted the Justice Ministry about the analysis," Justice Ministry Spokesman Richard Fides told The Slovak Spectator.

According to the analysis, even if an investor requests to have the details of a contract classified, the Economy Ministry should not automatically meet the request and ought to explore which parts can be classified based on the valid legislation. The contracts cannot be classified in their entirety but only classified information blacked out.

Currently, classified information, personal data subject of the privacy act, data that is protected by business confidentiality, and information that pertains to court proceedings or criminal prosecution can be kept out of the public eye.

Earlier this year, when media demanded that the contract with Korean carmaker Kia be made public, Rusko argued that it was simply impossible to declassify the contracts in their entirety, as it would violate business confidentiality.

Lawyer Tomáš Kamenec told the daily SME that the cabinet should publish all materials, and not only those that will be discussed in the future. This would practically impose the duty to disclose the Kia contract on the cabinet.

Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš, a member of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) agrees that there is a need for clear rules in the field.

"I too see it as problematic that no rules exist governing what may and may not be disclosed," said Mikloš.

According to Mikloš, the situation is more complicated than the declassification of contracts.

The ruling coalition council meeting on June 1 agreed that experts of the ministries of justice and economy led by Jan Hrubala, the director of the Cabinet Office's Department of the Fight Against Organised Crime, would discuss the analysis.

"The Justice Ministry will incorporate the acceptable comments into the legal analysis. In the event that the Economy Ministry comes up with unacceptable claims, minister Lipšic will submit the analysis to the cabinet in its original wording," said Fides.

However, Rusko says that the document should not only reflect the stand on the law on free access to information, but also the law on business confidentiality.

Legal experts say that everything pertaining to public funds should be made public, as the money comes from the taxpayers' pocket.

Hrubala does not entirely agree that the ruling coalition should have the decisive word over the analysis. He argued that the document is of a legal and not political nature and that there is no reason to discuss it in a political forum.

Peter Wilfing, a lawyer with the Citizen and Democracy NGO agrees with Hrubala.

"As far as I know, the ruling coalition is to decide over political issues," Wilfing told SME, adding that it was not the coalition council that should rule on whether or not the government adheres to the law.

The Justice Ministry said that there would be a discussion of expert groups.

"For the Justice Ministry it is important that the law on free access to information is respected," Fides added.

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