The Ministry of Health (VWS) is appealing the court’s decision. Last month, he instructed the department to comply with a number of so-called Wob requests from various media within two months. According to VWS, the term for making the requested information public is ‘not enforceable’. This is what outgoing corona minister Hugo de Jonge writes in a letter to the House of Representatives.
The District Court of Central Netherlands also imposed an increased penalty of 250 euros per day, with a maximum of 37,500 euros. An appeal against this will also be lodged with the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State. The penalty payment ignores the ‘great efforts’ that are being made ‘to make the enormous amount of requested documents public as quickly as possible’, according to De Jonge.
After the outbreak of the corona crisis, the Ministry of Health came up with a new way to deal with the Government Information (Public Access) Act. Due to the crisis, there would be no time to handle all Wob requests individually. Instead, documents related to corona are made public every so often per category.
“A traditional approach would lead to the requested information becoming public later and fragmented,” said de Jonge in his letter. He says he understands ‘the impatience of those submitting Wob requests’. “I share the desire for speed.”
But that way of working is ‘not a decision on the Wob requests’ that the NOS and NTR submitted ‘but disclosure decisions of their own accord’, the court ruled last month. “The court is of the opinion that there are special circumstances.” That is why the court decided to grant the ministry more time: the two months. However, the ministry does not consider that term feasible.
De Jonge emphasizes that his ministry has already taken steps to make documents public more quickly. Since last year, for example, more lawyers have been recruited to assess documents, and additional people are still being sought.
The ministry says it will not fundamentally adjust the method by handling Wob requests about corona individually again. However, it is being examined how more can be ‘personalised’ when publishing documents, so that journalists can see whether and when the documents they want have been made public.
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