Transparency Act

According to the figures we received, in 2015 a total of 597 requests for access were submitted to the federal authorities (if we include those to the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland and Parliamentary Services, the figure was 600; on this subject see section 2.1.2 of the annual report). This is once again a record number since the Transparency Act entered into force in 2006. In 319 cases (54%) the authorities granted complete access, in 127 (21%) partial access. In 98 cases (16%) no access at all was allowed; 31 requests for access were withdrawn and 22 cases were registered by the authorities as still pending at year end. Considering the steady rise in the number of requests for access, it can be assumed that awareness and use of the Freedom of Information Act is increasing.

The figures show that the practice of the authorities in dealing with applications has been balanced over recent years; although the total number of requests has increased, the general trend is for full access to be granted in just under half of all cases, partially granted in a quarter of the cases, and entirely refused in the remaining quarter.

Among the federal offices, the Swiss Federal Audit Office SFAO received the highest number of requests for access to information in 2015; these totalled 43, followed by the Federal Office of the Environment FOEN (31), the Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG and the Competition Commission COMCO (each 23), the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH and the General Secretariat of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport GS-DDPS (each 22). At department level, the highest numbers were received by Home Affairs (DHA) with 134 requests, Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) with 101 and Finance (FDF) with 84. The DHA showed itself to be particularly keen on transparency: of a total of 134 requests received, 110 were fully granted, 17 partially granted or postponed, and in only seven cases was access rejected outright. In 2015, 17 out of 71 federal authorities reported that they had not received a single request for access to information. The Data Protection and Information Commissioner himself received seven requests in the reporting year, and granted full access in each case.

The level of fees charged in the reporting year for access to official documents was clearly higher than in recent years, at CHF 13,663 (2012: CHF 6,322; 2013: CHF 6,502; 2014: CHF 2,600). This total amount relates to only 17 of a total of 597 reported requests; as in previous years, in most cases (on average 97% of all applications) no fee is charged. Considerable differences still exist in the way the various authorities approach the issue of charging for access to information. Whereas the Federal Chancellery and three departments charged nothing at all, four departments charged applicants for the time involved, at least in some cases. The highest fees for access to information were charged by the DDPS (CHF 5,663 for five applications), DETEC (CHF 4,150 for three applications) and the EAER (CHF 3,650 for eight applications). The total amount cited above for 2015 does not include cases in which a fee had not yet been definitively set in the reporting year. This applies, for example, in a case assessed by the Federal Administrative Court in which the court reduced to a maximum of CHF 8,500 a fee of CHF 16,500 given as an original estimate by the authority in question for processing a request for access to information (judgment A-2589/2015 of 4 November 2015).

The Data Protection and Information Commissioner would once again draw attention to the fact that the authorities are not obliged to record the time required to process a request, and that there are no standard guidelines applicable to the Federal Administration. Only limited conclusions can be drawn, therefore, from the information sent to him on a voluntary basis. The figures indicate that the time spent on processing requests has clearly risen over previous years (2012: 2,155 hours; 2013: 1,707 hours; 2014: 1,642 hours; 2015: 2,912 hours). The time spent on conciliation procedures, on the other hand, dropped from 1,436 hours in 2014 to 1,148 hours in 2015. The time spent on issuing a ruling or on appeal proceedings is either not recorded or is not recorded separately.

The Parliamentary Services reported to us that they received two requests for access to information in 2015; access was fully granted in one case and entirely refused in the other.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland reported a single request for access in 2015; in this case, access was partially granted.