Freedom of information principle

Requests for access

According to the statistics that have been provided to us, the federal authorities received some 469 request for access to information in 2013. Full access was granted in 218 cases, partial access in 103 cases, and a further 122 requests were rejected. 18 requests were withdrawn, whereby the reason for the withdrawal in probably half the cases was the fee charged for this service by the authorities. At the end of the period under review, eight cases were still pending.

Looking at the total number of requests for information received, and the practice of authorities in handling these cases, the numbers point to a stable situation for the past year. This would suggest therefore that the Freedom of Information Act is a useful and effective tool allowing private individuals and representatives of the media to gain access to information. That said, we are still hoping that the level of awareness of the Act will grow and that more and more people will take advantage of it.

In 2013, the Federal Office of Public Health received the most requests (33), followed by the Federal Office of Agriculture (30), the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (26) and the Federal Office for Migration (24). Of the departments (ministries), the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (100 requests), the Federal Department of Home Affairs (92) and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (73) received the most requests. The prize for being the most open goes to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, since of the 73 requests received, 63 were granted without restriction, five were granted in part, and a mere five were refused. 19 of the 71 departments and agencies informed us that they had not received a single request for information during the year under review. The FDPIC himself received 14 requests for information, 10 of which were granted, three were partially granted, and one case was refused.

As in the previous year, the fees that were invoiced during the year under review were relatively modest and totalled 6,502.50 Swiss francs (compared to 6,300 in the previous year). It is interesting to note that three departments and the Federal Chancellery did not charge any fees at all, while four departments partially charged for the time necessary to process the request. Out of the total of 6,502.50 Swiss francs, just under half of these fees was charged by the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate. Although an amount of only 2,015 Swiss francs was charged by the units belonging to the central administration, the General Secretaries' Conference nevertheless decided to set up a working group tasked with establishing a set of guidelines on a fee schedule for requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (see section 2.6.1 of the present Report on Activities, in German).

In so far as the time expended on the processing of requests is concerned, we would point out once more that the authorities are not required to record these, and there are no rules that are applied across the entire administration for a uniform time recording system. The figures that have been supplied to us on a voluntary basis are therefore to be treated with caution. However, it would appear that the reported processing time fell this year for the first time (815 hours in 2010; 1519 hours in 2011; 2155 hours in 2012; and 1707 hours in 2013). The time spent participating in mediation procedures, on the other hand, increased by more than 60%, rising from 480 hours in 2012 to 778 hours in 2013.

Requests for mediation

In 2013, a total of 76 requests for mediation were submitted (compared to 78 in 2012). By contrast with the previous year, most of the requests made during the year under review came from private citizens (27), followed closely by journalists (24). Based on these numbers, we can draw a few conclusions and make some comments: in 225 cases the federal authorities refused access either entirely (122 cases) or partially (103). The FDPIC received 76 requests for mediation. This means that 30% of all the cases where requests for information were entirely or partially refused led to a request for mediation.

All in all, 81 requests for mediation were concluded during the year under review. Of these, 31 requests were submitted during the year, 30 were still pending from 2012, and 12 from 2011. In 16 cases, mediation allowed a settlement to be reached between the parties. We also issued 37 recommendations in cases where no mutually acceptable solution could be found or was deemed achievable. 13 requests for mediation were withdrawn, and in seven cases, the conditions for invoking the Freedom of Information Act were not fulfilled. In four cases, the request for mediation was not submitted within the specified time period.

The continuing lack of sufficient human resources has meant that applicants still had to wait longer than the statutory maximum of 30 days before the mediation procedure could be initiated.