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Archiving and transparency practices in the central government administration have serious shortcomings

​Many ministries and government enterprises have poor archiving practices and offer insufficient opportunities for access. "Few other countries have transparency and the right of access to documents covered so extensively by law; however, this does not work in practice. This is due both to a lack of knowledge and to archiving systems that are insufficiently user-friendly", said Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss.

Published 5/30/2017 12:00 PM

​Document 3:10 (2016–2017) The Office of the Auditor General's investigation of archiving and transparency in the central government administration was submitted to the Storting on 30 May. The Office of the Auditor General has mapped out central government practice with regard to the archiving and registration of public case documents, and assessed whether conditions allowing the right of access have been created.

"We found that the archiving, registration and access practices of ministries and government enterprises are inadequate and insufficient, and that this is widespread. Transparency regarding the work of the central government is essential in a democracy", said Auditor General Foss. "The Norwegian Constitution stipulates the right of access to government documents, and requires the authorities to 'create conditions that facilitate open and enlightened public discourse'. This requires documents to be archived and registered. Good archiving and information management also make proceedings more efficient", he pointed out.

Many ICT systems dealing with case documents do not have an approved archiving system. "For some time now, the increased volume of documents, multiple channels of communications and the encroachment of email into proceedings have posed a challenge both to regulations and practice in this area", said Foss.

Many ministries and government enterprises neither archive nor register considerable quantities of documents which are required to be archived. The result of this is that the documents do not become publicly known and are unavailable for access. In many cases, there is a lack of compliance with the requirement to register documents on an ongoing basis.

Documents are also being exempted in advance more often than intended. One in four documents registered in the public electronic mail journal in 2015 was exempted in advance. A review of 236 documents showed that in more than 60 per cent of cases, it is difficult or impossible to see a need for advance exemption. Three ministries – the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Defence – exempted almost half of their registered documents in advance.

"We believe that this is a highly reprehensible practice which undermines the general rule regarding access. Advance exemption should only apply to confidential information or information which is not relevant for enhanced access", said Foss.
A second review of a selection of documents in seven ministries in which requests for access were refused showed that more than a third of refusals could not be legally substantiated.

"This erodes the principle of public access. And in many cases where it is relevant to exempt documents from access, these documents should also be assessed and granted enhanced access, i.e. access should be granted to all or part of the document", said Auditor General Foss.

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