Belgium’s Commission on Access to Administrative Documents has found that the health authorities did not provide enough justification for their refusal to grant Test Achats access to vaccine-purchasing contracts, the consumer organisation said on Saturday.
According to the findings, the federal agency in charge of medicines and health products (AFMPS) cannot base a refusal on general considerations, but needs to show why releasing the documents could be harmful to Belgium’s international relations, as it had argued.
Test Achats has denounced a lack of transparency surrounding the conclusion of purchasing contracts for vaccines against the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). In September, the consumer organisation sent a request to then Health Minister Maggie De Block and the AFMPS, invoking the principle that public administration should be made public.
In its letter, it asked to be allowed to consult the contracts negotiated by the European Commission as well as the opinion of the Agency’s special committee on whether or not a given vaccine should be purchased. The same demand was later sent to Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.
The AFMPS turned down the request, saying that releasing the documents would hurt Belgium’s international relations, while the Health Minister never responded.
The consumer organisation then took its case to the Commission on Access to Administrative Documents, which guarantees the principle that administrative matters should be made public. The Commission has now ruled that insufficient justification was given for the decision to refuse access to the contracts, Test Achats said.
The mere fact that releasing documents could harm the country’s international relations is, in itself, not enough to refuse access to them, the Commission found. The AFMPS needs to see which weighs heavier, “the interest of the citizens, linked to the disclosure, which the Commission deems ‘very present in this case’ – or Belgium’s international relations,” Test Achats said.
Once a document is in the hands of a public administration in Belgium, the law governing information on public administration applies, even if the document is a European one, the Commission said stated.
Test Achats urged Minister Vandenbroucke and the AFMPS, who have 15 days to take a position on the issue, to be transparent.