Belgium's authorities often keep public information secret

Belgium's authorities often keep public information secret
Credit: Belga / Benoit Doppagne

Belgian authorities regularly turn down citizens’ requests to access official documents, a report by De Tijd and Apache reveals, despite the national constitution supposedly ensuring public access to such documents.

The report looked into 330 cases in which authorities refused to grant access to official documents. In almost all cases, the justification was to protect a person's privacy or because the file was incomplete.

At the federal level, ministers give limited access to files 9 times out of 10, with other key departments that held back information being tax authorities, the FPS Justice and the SNCB. Flemish municipalities and local authorities are said to routinely neglect requests and often use the argument of protecting people's privacy.

However, the citizens or companies challenged the government decisions to both the Council of State and the regulatory body CADA, which is only allowed to give its opinion regarding access to official documents.

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Half of the appeals that went to the Council of State were successful for complainants, while CADA also sided with citizens in 80% of these cases, deeming the authorities’ justifications as “not concrete enough.”

To remedy the issue, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo promised that the Council of Ministers' files will be actively made public in the coming months.

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