The most visible power: decree on administrative transparency

Norberto Bobbio in 1984’s “THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY” lists six promises that democracy has not kept, one of them is “invisible power”. Modern democracy, Bobbio said, was born with the prospect of dispelling invisible powers to create a completely transparent system of power. The publicity of government documents is therefore essential to allow citizens to have their knowledge and control power.

With the decree on transparency recently launched by the Government “Revision and simplification of the provisions on the prevention of corruption, advertising and transparency” (DL 25/5/2016, n. 97), the Italian legislative system also takes an important step in the direction of publicizing the acts of government that every democracy must foresee. The decree introduces the FOIA (Freedom of information act), i.e. the right by citizens of access to documents, information, including those that have to do with the awarding of tenders and contracts, and to documents of the Public Administration. In essence, every citizen has the opportunity to access the data held by the Public Administration without any reason. Any refusal to request access to documents must be specifically motivated, and is foreseen only for the cases defined by the decree itself. This new form of civic access therefore provides that anyone, regardless of the ownership of legally relevant situations, can access all data and documents held by public administrations, even those that do not have the obligation to publish.

However, the decree provides for limits which are specified in a timely manner and which will also be further defined by a specific regulation. These are for example: public interests relating to public or national security; private interests relating to the protection of personal data and the freedom and secrecy of correspondence. In the case of refusal by the public body of the provision of the requested data, the interested party can contact the Transparency Manager or the Ombudsman and ultimately the Administrative Court.

From now on, we will also be able to know how much a mission, an administrator’s trip or how much was spent on a minister’s state trip, or the criteria followed for the award of a contract or the expected time to bring at the end of a public work, or how much a public initiative cost, what consultancy was assigned, to whom and how much it cost. These are just some examples in which a citizen can obtain information to highlight either an excessive expense or alleged irregularities on the awarding of contracts, untrustworthy or wrongful conduct by administrators, managers and public officials, also in order to prevent corruption or unmasking corrupting episodes in progress or consumed in the past. The citizen can also get better information on the various activities, on the supply of services, on the correct functioning of public administrations. So now the citizen and the various subjects of social, civil and economic representation have a more incisive democratic prerogative, and a greater opportunity to act and exercise controls, urging the virtuous behavior necessary to improve the national and local government of public affairs.

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