Editorial: Cerberus crouching on data pile high

PHOTO: PantherMedia / Scanpix

Compared to other countries, accessibility of public information in Estonia is almost okay. In many a nation of Europe, all kinds of data are much harder to obtain. Even with EU institutions, not always for granted you get what you want. In theory, if written rules be inspected, Estonia might stand out as a kind of example.

The picture is polished and pretty – until one actually needs some certain piece of information. Then, reality often proves disappointingly different. It’s ever so easy for officials to restrict access to information, and even without restrictions people will run into practical issues. Documents are supposedly in the register, but they aren’t. Or, some agency’s document register is built complex like a Cerberus guarding the door of an underworld stuffed with information. To find something is only possible for the one who already knows to the detail what he is after.

In Postimees today, a detailed overview sets forth the funniest instances of public access denied to digital copies of records centuries old, or restriction set to mobile phone use rules for officialdom – the directive concerned allegedly containing info on mental/physical sufferings of related humans. Smile if you like, but this is but tip to an ugly iceberg.

For how else will one assess Estonian finance ministry’s document register closed to the public for months on end? And that in a situation where transparency of budget-making has been problematic in Estonia for years. Herewith, we are not talking about the bill presented to Riigikogu (while even this is being justly criticised regarding its thoroughness and clarity), but about the entire budget process during which the public disclosure till the governmental decision in the autumn is near zero. Symptomatic to this the 2008 crisis-summer words by finance minister Ivari Padar after a cabinet budget discussion: too early to talk about details of decisions, as «talking about interim decisions would only cause confusion». Talk about transparency and open governance …

With any topic of weight in the society, access to public documents serves to guarantee that media or any interested citizen, blogger, interest group could search stuff out on their own – not content to eat precooked narratives from the hand of a vast state-paid PR-army. 

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