Journalists and members of the public who request documents under freedom of information legislation (WOO) are having to wait far too long for a decision, putting the Netherlands at the back of the queue when it comes to the right to information, the Open State Foundation has said.
In 2023, a request submitted to a ministry took an average of 172 days to process, over four times the legal limit of 42 days. In 2022 the average wait was 167 days, the foundation said in its latest report. Ministries remained within the 42-day limit in just 17% of cases.
The finance ministry was the slowest to respond with and average of 239 days while the education ministry was the fastest but with 133 days it was still 91 days over the limit.
The number of requests, which can be made by journalists, scientists, organisations and private citizens, has also increased significantly, from 1,125 in 2022 to 1,762 in 2023.
The agriculture ministry received the biggest number of requests (424) and the social affairs minister the fewest (52). Some 316,000 pages were made public in 2023, over 100,000 more than the year before.
The delays are “worrying”, Serv Wiemers, director of the Open State Foundation told broadcaster NOS. “This should be a priority. An open government creates trust. But these figures don’t inspire trust,” he said.
Ministries, he said, must act far more quickly to engage with the people who request information, speed up the process and play a more active role in making public documents relevant to developments that are important to society. Ministers should play a leading role in this, he said.
According to the researchers, the Netherlands is out of step with international developments which make the right to government information part of a democratic state. “That development seems to have passed the Netherlands by at times,” they said.
The report will be presented to parliament’s home affairs committee on Tuesday ahead of a parliamentary debate about the legislation on Thursday.
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