Voermans and Drahmann positive about Advisory Board on public access to government information
Today, the Dutch Advisory Board on public access and government information (ACOI) issued its opinion on how the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) makes documents on Covid policy accessible to the public.
'A firm clip round the ear'
The opinion was issued in response to a journalist's complaint. ‘Follow the Money’ asked Professor Wim Voermans and colleague Annemarie Drahmann, associate professor of constitutional and administrative law, to comment on the ACOI's opinion.
'A firm clip round the ear', Wim Voermans concludes. 'The Board does its best to seek a constructive tone, but VWS really gets a good ticking off.' Annemarie Drahmann also read the opinion. 'The truth is that VWS interprets the Open Government Act too unilaterally,' she concludes. 'Although this well-reasoned opinion is not binding on the administrative law courts, I expect it will certainly be noted by the judges'.
Ground for refusal
The opinion focuses specifically on the use of a controversial new ‘ground for refusal’ in the Open Government Act (Wet open overheid, Woo), the so-called ‘functioning of the State’. Based on this ground, VWS has withheld some 21,000 documents. According to the ACOI, this ground for refusal was created for specific cases, such as when the National Police Internal Investigations Department or a Court of Audit is investigating. Now the government invokes the ‘functioning of the State’ at random, says Professor Voermans. 'The ministry uses this ground for refusal far too extensively and generically, also virtually unjustified.' Drahmann also notes that this ground is only intended for emergency situations. 'If you already come to the conclusion that certain documents endanger the functioning of the State, then temporary refusal is the starting point. The legislative history is clear about that. The categorical and long-term refusal of these types of documents is clearly not the intention.'
Both articles (in Dutch) are available here: