ITALY: Who watches the watcher? The emergency eats away transparency – FOIA suspended

Extract from article published in Italian on Vita, 1 April 2020 – accessible here

The FOIA, the comprehensive civic access that allows everyone to know the acts of the Public Administration, is a fundamental tool of control and supervision. Especially in times of extraordinary money allocations and emergency management. And yet the FOIA has been suspended by the Decree Cura Italia. Who will now control the correct operation of the Public Administration?

FOIA stands for Freedom of Information Act. It is a key tool for freedom of information and control over the work of public administrations and authorities. […] It means that every citizen is guaranteed the right to have access to data and documents held by public administrations.

At a time when extraordinary allocations, centralization of purchases, extraordinary management of aid have become everyday life, the FOIA is a crucial civic instrument because it allows those widespread forms of control of public resources and functions that are the basis of the social pact and, consequently, of democracy.

And yet, as  Laura Carrer from Transparency Italia reports in the Sole 24 Ore newspaper the very law Decree Cura Italia of 17 March 2020 states that public administrations will suspend responses to requests for access to documents (Law 241/1990), civic and general civic access (Legislative Decree 33/2013) that “are not ” indeferable and urgent” until 31 May 2020 (art. 67.3)”.

Thus, FOIA has been suspended. So much so that also the Civil Service Department, through a statement of 27 March 2020 announced the suspension of requests for document access until 15 April 2020″. “A too confusing scenario”, Carrer rightly observes, “at a time when maximum transparency and clarity for all would be needed”.

Who does determine and how which requests are of an unavoidable and urgent nature? For example, is or will information on Coronavirus emergency-related data, expenses, and supplies be considered urgent?