Transparency principle

The number of requests for access in 2011 was almost twice as high as in the previous year. However, the percentage of requests granted or refused remained unchanged. We did note a significant increase in the fees charged by the authorities. Overall, 65 requests for mediation were received, a twofold increase over the previous year. Most of the requests for mediation were received from media professionals.

According to the figures in our possession, the federal authorities received a total of 466 requests for access to information in 2011. In 203 cases, the authorities granted full access, and in 128 cases only partial access. There were 126 requests where access was refused. Compared to the previous year, the numbers have virtually doubled. This increase can probably be explained in part by the fact that the Transparency Act is now better known to the public, and in particular to those working in the media, and this has led to more requests for access to information. Another reason is that since the Transparency Act came into force five years ago, there has been a growing awareness on the part of the authorities which has meant that the statistics covering requests for access have been recorded more systematically. The most requests were received by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health FOPH (33), followed by the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate ENSI and the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN (22). We can assume that the numbers reported by the FOPH were directly connected with Fukushima. The Parliamentary Services reported that they had received one request for access in 2011 which was granted in full, and the federal prosecutor's office granted full access in two cases and refused access in one case.

In 2010 we noted that the authorities were taking advantage of the opportunity created by the Transparency Act to increase their fees, and that trend continued in 2011, too. According to the figures we have been given, the fees charged by 11 government bodies amounted to a total of CHF 13,140, representing a significant increase of almost CHF 10,000.

The authorities are not required to keep records of the amount of time they need to process requests for access. In addition, there are no uniform rules that are applied by all parts of the federal administration for tracking time. The data we receive is provided to us on a voluntary basis, and therefore its value is somewhat limited. Nevertheless the workload does seem to have increased once again. The same applies to the time needed to process cases involving mediation.

To put the numbers in perspective, there were 254 cases where access was fully or partially rejected, and we received 65 requests for mediation. That represents 26% of the total, the same as in the previous year. During the course of the year under review, we were able to close 30 cases, some of which were still pending from previous years. In 15 of 17 cases, our mediation efforts and recommendations produced a more favourable outcome for the applicant, i.e. the access we were able to negotiate went further than was originally accepted by the federal office concerned.

The partial revision of the Freedom of Information Ordinance (FoIO) which came into effect in July 2011 extended the deadline for completing mediation proceedings in cases involving complex problems. In spite of this, applicants must still wait longer for the process to be completed quite simply because the number of applications received during the year has increased substantially and we do not have sufficient resources to process them.