State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs Mr. Baasandorj gave a brief interview regarding the Law on Public Information.
Current Law on Information Transparency and the Right to Access Information is being revised into the Law on Public Information. Let's start the conversation with the reason behind the revision.
Mr. Baasandorj: There were many factors to revise this law. First, in the policy documents approved by the Parliament and the “Guidelines for Improving the Legislation of Mongolia until 2024” are foreseen legislations to support governance, strengthening citizens 'and legal entities' access to information, protection of personal information, information security, and the use of electronic signatures. Accordingly, the draft law has been developed in order to ensure the right of citizens to seek and receive information, through the creation of public information system, and receiving state services and activities in an electronic form, ensuring open, transparent, prompt state services. Dating back, to ensure the constitutional right of citizens to information, the Law on Information Transparency and Right to Information was adopted by the Parliament in 2011.
With the technology and socio-economic developments, there has been an urgent need to revise the current law. Although progress is being made with the intensification of e-government activities and the introduction of technology in government services, however, projects and programs coordination are not sufficient enough, and actions to establish a unified database aren't conducted yet. Therefore, based on legal and practical needs, we have included principled regulations in the Law on Public Information.
Does it mean that there are some shortcomings in terms of implementation?
Mr. Baasandorj: Yes. It has been concluded that it is not possible to fully implement the current law in terms of content. Moreover, currently there are more than 150 regulations on database and electronic systems in regulating database establishment.
The lack of a satisfactory legal environment in regulating database establishment caused a lot of confusion. For example, the same database may be established in two different government organizations, as well as, the court is not considering the digital documents as the evidence has caused further disputes among lawyers. Therefore, the law initiators drafted this law, intended to solve a lot of problems in society.
If the law is adopted, what are the benefits for society and citizens?
Mr. Baasandorj: Of course, the main concept of the draft law is to ensure the right of citizens to seek and receive information in accordance with the grounds and procedures outlined in the law, and to conduct state activities in an electronic form by creating a public information system, and to establish public supervision over government activities. It has many benefits, such as addressing the issues I mentioned above and having a positive impact on society and the economy.
Then for government organizations, the quality and accessibility of public services will be improved, and operational management, innovation, information systems, and computer resource management will be strengthened. We consider that enhancing State database and system planning, government responsibility and transparency will strengthen.
In the case of Mongolia, the international development indicators, such as the United Nations e-Government Development Index, Transparency international's Corruption perception Index, and the World Economic Forum's Competitiveness Index may be improved and increase international prestige.
According to the law, 67 types of information in five areas will be made public. What are the five areas?
Mr. Baasandorj: Article 8 of the draft law clearly states which information must be kept transparent, and open by the information respondent. First, the information on institutional functions, operational strategy and organizational information; second, the information on its human resources; third, budget, finance, and procurement; fourth, responsibilities and information on available services under the law, and, lastly, the scope of institution’s area of intellectual property, land ownership must be transparent and open.
Furthermore, public information is classified as open, restricted, or closed. Closed information is defined as state secrets and information that is considered to be closed by the law; restricted information is information that is restricted by law, in other words, information that can be accessed and used with the consent of individuals and legal entities, and information related to official use.
The question of how to protect people's personal information, both in government and in private organizations, has long been a matter of concern. How is it protected now?
Mr. Baasandorj: A person or legal entity has the right to use, store, collect and transmit his / her personal and business secrets to other persons only with his/her consent. This is a very important protection function. In other words, any information of a person or legal entity may not be accessed without their consent. So, there must be a system in place to notify the owner of the information whenever information is viewed, used, modified, or transmitted. The system requires to be operated without the involvement of officials or employees. Furthermore, article 18.4.5 of the draft law specifically provides for a notification system.
Some open information requires a fee to be viewed by the public. How does the law define the price of this information?
Mr. Baasandorj: You seem to be referring to the regulation of open information in Article 8 of the draft law. Of course, it details who, when, and how to keep open information transparent and open. In other words, the right to information is subject to a fee only if it is processed in some cases. For instance, there will be costs and service charges if person requests open information in a physical copy.
Following the current Law on Information Transparency, institutions reject information seekers by saying "confidential information of the organization." How does the draft Law on Public Information regulate this?
Mr. Baasandorj: There is a lack of access to information in the context of organizational secrecy. Following the discussion and approval of the draft law by the Parliament, the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs is preparing to amend the Law on State and Official Secrecy. These amendments are essential to ensure the implementation of the Law on Public Information. The amendment fully regulates the questions connected with confidentiality of organizations and the implementation of the Law on Public Information fully available.
The draft law states that "this law shall not apply to the disclosure of information specified by law as state secrets." Wouldn't this create a situation where citizens' right to information?
Mr. Baasandorj: Of course. These two concepts are separate issues. In other words, relations related to state secrets are regulated by the Law on State and Official Secrecy. The draft Law on Public Information, on the other hand, regulates the relationship between the owner of the information and the person responsible for the information.