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The Office of the Auditor General’s investigation of archiving and transparency in the central government administration

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Summary

​Background and objectives of the investigation

Transparency regarding the work of the central government is essential in a democracy. Article 100 in 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'. The administration must provide the public with every opportunity to scrutinise proceedings and participate in democratic processes. This requires documents to be archived and registered. Good archiving and information management also make proceedings more efficient.

The objective of the investigation was to map out central government practice with regard to the archiving and registration of public case documents, and to assess whether conditions allowing the right of access have been created.

Findings

Archiving in several ministries and government enterprises is inadequate

The use of emails and specialist systems which do not have approved archiving systems means that considerable quantities of documents which are required to be archived are not being archived or registered. Many workers feel that administrative systems and filing systems are not very user-friendly. As a result, they tend not to use them.

The advance exemption of documents is used more often than intended, and often without a legally valid basis

As a general rule, documents should not be ‘classified in advance’, and this procedure should only be used for confidential information or information which is not relevant for enhanced access. In 2015, one in four documents was granted advance exemption. An inspection of seven ministries showed that it is difficult or impossible to identify the need for advance exemption in 60 per cent of cases.

The right of access could be managed considerably better

An inspection of refusals for access in seven ministries showed that in more than a third of cases, there was no valid basis for refusing access. Complaints regarding refusals often take too long, with the risk that a case loses its relevance.

Inadequate archiving and incorrect registration in important individual cases

In important individual cases, inadequate archiving and/or incorrect registration has resulted in documents remaining unknown to the general public, with the consequence that it is difficult to ask for access to these. This reduces the opportunity of a public debate and media scrutiny of central government.

There is often no assessment as to whether enhanced access should be granted

Whenever the authorities wish to refuse access to a document, they still have to consider granting some form of access (‘enhanced access’). Inspections of seven ministries showed that it is difficult to understand why enhanced access was not granted to more than half of the documents.

There was a general lack of compliance with the requirement to register documents on an ongoing basis

In 2015, government enterprises and ministries all took an average of approximately 30 days to register a document. Many documents were registered on an ongoing basis, but a considerable number did not appear in the list of items for quite some time.

Recommendations

The Office of the Auditor General recommends that the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development:

  • Takes the initiative to ensure that the archiving services in the ministries provide training, guidance and inspections to ensure that more case documents which should be archived are archived
  • Works with the Ministry of Culture to take the initiative to ensure that guidance material and more user-friendly software is developed, in order to improve archiving practice
  • Works with the Ministry of Culture to assess measures for reducing the time it takes to register documents
  • Takes the initiative to ensure that the Ministry of Justice and Public Security implements measures to improve knowledge about the advance exemption of documents
  • Takes the initiative to ensure that the Ministry of Justice and Public Security implements measures to improve knowledge about the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act with regards to exemptions from public access and the criteria for assessing enhanced access
Ministry/ministries:

Riksrevisjonen, Storgata 16, P.O. Box 8130 Dep, 0032 Oslo, Norway

Phone: +47 22 24 10 00

Org.nr: 974 760 843