[This article is crossposted on the Open Society Foundations blog]
How safe is your child’s school? Is your municipality gambling taxpayer’s money in risky and unfavorable swap contracts? Or simply, when is the last time the restaurant down the road passed its health inspection? These are just a handful of the questions Italian civil society activists and journalists have started asking in the recent months.
Queries such as these should receive an answer in any democratic country with a freedom of information law. Yet rarely have they received a satisfactory answer in Italy—and sometimes only after a court appeal. The previous government, headed by Mario Monti, pushed hard on transparency in an effort to fight corruption—an endemic plague estimated to drain €60 billion from the country’s economy every year.
Transparency has also been one of the strongest arguments in Beppe Grillo’s political campaign, which led his M5S to conquer 25 percent of votes in the February elections. With much fanfare, Italy recently joined the Open Government Partnership, and in April, a new transparency law (Decree 33/2013) came into effect.
However, on-the-ground transparency still seems in a dire state. When it comes to access to information (the public’s right to obtain and use information), which is internationally recognized as the cornerstone of transparency, Italy’s institutions fail to satisfy citizen and media requests almost three times out of four.
Here at Diritto Di Sapere (“Right to Know”), we spent the last couple of months testing how responsive various branches of Italy’s public administration are to requests for information, in collaboration with Access-Info Europe. We filed 300 requests on matters like public expenditure, health, environment, justice, and immigration to local, regional, and federal authorities on behalf of individuals representing civil society, the media, and general public.