State Audit Office: government agencies should abide by the law in the disclosure of surveys

Toomas Mattson | 4/19/2005 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 19 April 2005 - The State Audit Office (SAO) has found in its audit that although government agencies ordered over 1,000 studies and analyses for a total of EEK 200 million in the years 2001-2004, almost four fifths of them were never disclosed on a web site as required by the Public Information Act.

Studies and analyses (surveys) were ordered by 63 agencies. Most surveys (40 percent of the total) were ordered by the Ministry of the Environment and the agencies within its administration area. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the agencies within its administration area ordered 16 percent and the Ministry of Agriculture and its subordinated agencies ordered 13 percent of all surveys.

In the view of the SAO it would be appropriate if upon ordering studies and analyses the following data would be made public: the name of the survey and the description of the primary objective, the conductor of the survey, the cost and the payer, the time of completion and the contact data of the person who can provide further information about the ordered work.

After the completion of a survey it should be disclosed in full on the web site of the institution ordering the survey or the web site should at least provide a link to another site where the survey is publicized. In case of very extensive surveys, it should suffice to provide an executive summary and information about the opportunity to access the complete work.

The SAO has analysed the reasons why information about the studies and analyses ordered by government agencies have not been publicized on a web site. The audit showed that it was obscure what the legislature meant by the studies and analyses subject to disclosure. It is also obscure what kind of information about studies and analyses should be made public and when. Upon conclusion of contracts for the performance of studies and analyses, the government agencies do not always keep in mind the obligation to disclose the ordered works.

The SAO admits that there are certain cases when, upon disclosure of surveys, specific laws have to be taken into account, which limit the scope of information to be disclosed. In particular, this is the case with the surveys on plant, animal and wild fowl species. For instance, the Nature Conservation Act does not allow the disclosure in mass media of the specific habitats of specimens of species in the protected categories I and II. Thus, prior to the publicity of surveys, provisions of specific acts have to be consulted.

However, in the opinion of the SAO, the prohibition to disclose some information contained in the report of survey should not hinder the disclosure of the main data of the survey, because pursuant to the Public Information Act, access must be granted to that part of information to which restrictions on access do not apply. For example, it is possible to publicize a survey only partly, by omitting or blotting out information that must not be disclosed or by presenting survey results as a summary.

Several agencies have not specified the procedure for the disclosure of studies and analyses on a web site and the person responsible for it.

The SAO finds that the disclosure of the primary objective of the survey, the conductors and the fees paid for the surveys is conducive to increased public control and a lower risk of accepting work which has not been completed in line with the primary objective, of ordering surveys from persons who are not sufficiently qualified for their conduction or of paying unreasonably large fees for a survey.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of National Audit Office
Telephone: 6400 777
Mob: 51 34900

  • Posted: 4/19/2005 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/22/2015 9:28 AM
  • Last Review: 9/22/2015 9:28 AM

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