In 2012, the number of requests for access increased by 8% over the previous year. The numbers of cases where full access was either granted or denied remained the same. There was a slight decrease of 3 percentage points in the number of cases where partial access was granted (this includes those cases where access was granted after a delay). The biggest surprise was the massive drop in fees that were invoiced. During the year under review, the number of requests for mediation increased by 20% to 78.
Requests for access
According to the figures that are in our possession, the federal authorities received a total of 506 requests for access to information in 2012. In 223 cases, the authorities granted full access, and in 120 cases partial access. There were 138 requests which were totally rejected. 19 requests for access were withdrawn. However in more than half the cases, this was due to the fees charged by the authorities for this service. During the year under review six cases were still pending. Although the number of requests for access received by the authorities continues to grow, the proportional distribution between those that are fully granted, fully rejected or partially granted has remained stable (cf. section 3.7 of the present Report on activities, in German and French). The overall increase in the number of applications may be seen as a sign of the growing awareness of the Freedom of Information Act as an instrument allowing citizens to obtain information held by the authorities. The fact that the number of requests that were accepted or refused has remained stable would indicate that in the six and a half years since the Freedom of Information Act came into force, there has been a growing awareness of the rights that have been recognized by the law. As a result, a certain routine has set in and the authorities have adopted a more systematic approach in dealing with requests. Compared with the previous year, there has been no change in the overall percentages of cases that were fully refused (27%) or fully granted (44%).
Most of the requests submitted in 2012 were reported by the Swiss Competition Commission (WEKO), which received 27. The Federal Office for the Environment received 25 requests, the Federal Office for Public Health 24, and the Federal Office for Migration 23. Among the ministries, the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) received 100 requests, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) 88, and the Federal Department of Economic Affairs (FDEA) 80. Since 1 January 2013, the ministry has been renamed and is now called the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER). 16 out of a total of 72 government ministries and offices reported that they had received not a single request for information in 2012. We reported last year that the authorities seemed to be making increasing use of the possibility provided under the Freedom of Information Act to charge a fee. This trend did not continue in 2012, on the contrary it was reversed. In fact, whereas we had witnessed a continuous and sometimes massive increase in fees charged to applicants, they quite simply plunged in 2012. Only five ministries or offices charged fees, and the total amount that was invoiced at 6300 Swiss francs was half that recorded during the previous year.
On the subject of the time taken to process requests, we must point out that, first, the authorities are not obliged to log the amount of time they spend on them, and second, there is no standard time-tracking method used across all the ministries and offices. The figures that are provided to us on a voluntary basis are therefore only of limited significance. However, the numbers tend to show that the amount of processing time reported has risen once again (in 2010, 815 hours; in 2011, 1519 hours; in 2012, 2155 hours). The amount of time spent on participation in mediation procedures rose slightly from 453 hours in 2011 to 480 hours in 2012.
In 2012, a total of 78 requests for mediation were received (see section 3.10 of the present Report on activities, in German and French). This represents an increase of exactly 20% over the previous year (65 requests). Most of the requests were made by journalists (33), followed by private individuals (21). Overall, it can be said that more and more private individuals are taking advantage of the possibility of requesting mediation. A number of conclusions can be drawn from these figures. First, in 258 cases, the federal authorities refused full (138) or partial (120) access. This should be seen in the context of the 78 requests for mediation received by the FDPIC. Thus, in 2012, 30% of all requests for access that were fully or partially rejected led to a request for mediation.
Overall, mediation was completed in 61 cases in 2012. Of these, 20 were submitted during the course of the year, 35 had been submitted in 2011, and six were still pending from 2010. In six cases, a settlement was found between the parties. We issued a total of 19 recommendations in cases where it was clear that no agreement would be possible. Thus, 26 requests were brought to a conclusion. In three cases, the authorities decided of their own accord to grant access during the mediation process. 16 requests were withdrawn, and in 14 cases, the conditions set out for requests for access under the Freedom of Information Act were not met. Three requests were not submitted within the prescribed time period. In 10 out of 25 cases, the mediated solution or the recommendation achieved a more favourable outcome for the applicant (i.e. either mediation or a degree of access that exceeded that originally granted by the authorities).
In view of the increasing number of requests for mediation received by the FDPIC, and due to a continued shortage of staff to deal with these matters, applicants can expect to have to wait longer than the 30 days stipulated by the law before mediation can take place.