Friday, 4 March 2022

Non Government Organization Holds Online Conference "Open Data Against Infodemic"

ZAGREB, 4 March (2022) - The GONG nongovernmental organisation on Friday opened a three-day online conference "Open data against infodemic" on the occasion of the 9th Open Data Day, to promote the importance of publicly available, open data which the NGO describes as a valuable social resource.

GONG executive director Oriana Ivković Novokmet said the conference would include three panel discussions, one of which would focus on the coronavirus infection and disinformation during the pandemic.

Experts from the universities of Rijeka, Osijek and Dubrovnik will be discussing how false coronavirus information is spread and who the most influential disinformers are.

The second panel, entitled "Data only for the rich," deals with the availability of spatial data, environmental data and data on public companies.

Ivković Novokmet said the latest amendments to the Right to Access Information Act, seeking to align the law with the EU Open Data Directive, was a step backward in terms of access to information standards because data on public spending would require the proportionality and public interest tests in a whole set of cases. GONG also considers as disputable the fact that public companies that make their income on the market, like FINA or Zagreb Holding, would be able to charge for the use of their data.

The third panel, entitled "Who is paying you," deals with the financing of civil sector organisations, Ivković Novokmet said, recalling a "defamation campaign" against civil society organisations during the 2021 local elections.

The event will also include workshops, as well as a discussion on Croatian, Hungarian and Russian officials' real estate in Croatia and the financing of media by the state and local budgets.

Lana Podgoršek of the Code for Croatia civic hackers' group said the conference would provide an opportunity for citizens to ask about anything regarding open data, public procurement transparency, civic hacking and the group's community projects.

Code for Croatia is an initiative that brings together activists and programmers and everyone else interested in open data and socially useful community projects.

Podgoršek also presented the group's new project, called "Fix it," a portal where citizens can report any damage to public infrastructure.

The "Open data against infodemic" conference can be followed on GONG and Code for Croatia's YouTube channels and on GONG's Facebook account.

For more, check out our politics section.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Popravi to Platform Allows for Free, Quick Reporting of Public Area Damage

November the 4th, 2021 - Having teamed up with Gong and Code for Croatia, the new Popravi to platform (Fix it) offers people a quick, free and easy way to report damage in public areas, whether it be broken lights or something more.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the service portal for reporting utility problems to the competent services "Popravi to", whose task is to eliminate and solve them, has been fully available on the Internet as of Tuesday this week, and it also covers the entire territory of Croatia, Gong announced.

Popravi to is a free tool created in cooperation with Code for Croatia and Gong, and facilitates the reporting of problems and damage to public areas and infrastructure in every single city, municipality, or indeed anywhere in the country.

"The idea is that people no longer have to investigate who to report damage to, whether it be a hole in the pavement, street lights that aren't working, a damaged bench or an improper landfill. All you have to do is mark the location on the map, briefly describe and photograph the problem and mark the category, and Popravi to sends the application to the right address based on this information,'' Gong reported. Every application on the portal will be visible to everyone.

“The fact that all reports are public makes it possible to monitor local authorities and monitor the efficiency of local utility companies, as well as compare the way things stand with other cities. This relieves local self-government units because the authorities stop receiving multiple reports of the same problem,'' they pointed out from Gong.

The portal will show how and when the problem was previously reported and at what stage it is at in terms of being resolved. This is the biggest purpose of the portal - to facilitate communication between people and the authorities and open up space for cooperation in solving community problems, they stressed.

Project manager Miroslav Schlossberg said that they believe that local self-government units will recognise "Popravi to" as a service that facilitates the detection and location of problems and damage, and that it will appreciate the contribution of residents who make problems known to them.

"We expect that they will cooperate in the context of performing their duties and responsibilities - responding to the reported problems and repairing them,'' they concluded from Gong.

For more, check out Made in Croatia.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

GONG: "Tomislav Tomašević Betrayed Pre-Election Promises"

 ZAGREB, 16 June, 2021 - The GONG NGO said on Wednesday that the newly-elected Zagreb Mayor Tomislav Tomašević had betrayed his pre-election promises by appointing members of the Management Board of the Zagreb Holding utility conglomerate without competitions for the posts.

Appointments made without a competition are not the path citizens chose in the elections, wanting a change in the way Zagreb is run, although it is indisputable that the City and Zagreb Holding (ZGH) have huge debts and that it is necessary to act as soon as possible, GONG said in a press release.

The NGO thinks that Tomašević should have kept the promises and standards announced in the election programme if he really wants to change the model of governing Zagreb and after 20 years of Milan Bandić's rule stop the practice of non-transparent employment.

The new model of governing Zagreb, announced by the Možemo! platform, explicitly stated that members of the management board of Zagreb Holding (and other city companies) would be selected in a public procedure, with the obligatory publication of their programme. This has not been done so far, and public calls will only serve to select additional members of the ZGH management and supervisory boards, GONG said.

For years, GONG has been advocating obligatory public calls for the selection of management staff in public and city companies, with adherence to the principle of competence.

We think that there is a high risk of corruption in public companies which have large budgets and a large number of employees, GONG said.

Explaining on Tuesday why he resorted to the direct appointment in ZGH although in the run-up to the elections he and his party (We Can!) promised the appointment of executives and management members of the city-owned companies only through public calls, Tomašević said that the situation inherited from the previous local government forced them to react quickly and the direct appointment was the most responsible solution.

Commenting on ZGH's loss of HRK 305 million, Tomašević said that the current city administration had two options: to keep the incumbent management that obviously failed to put the situation under control or to dismiss them and leave ZGH without management several months for the duration of the selection procedure.

The mayor elaborated that the minimum number of members of the management and supervisory boards of ZGH were directly appointed and promised the advertisement of public calls for the remaining three members in the management board and the remaining members of the supervisory board.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 7 May 2021

GONG Criticises Parliament For Not Publishing Information On Voting

ZAGREB, 7 May, 2021 - The Croatian Parliament is the only parliament in the European Union that, on the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic, has not been publishing reports on the voting of MPs for a year, the non-governmental organisation GONG said on Friday, considering this to be an attack on democracy.

"The epidemic has seriously affected the democratic standards in the work of the Croatian Parliament. It is unacceptable that since March 2020 and the declaration of the state of the pandemic, the Sabor has denied the public key information on the work of lawmakers, hiding behind the epidemiological measures and the shortcomings of the electronic voting system, which is designed for use only in the main chamber," GONG said in a statement.

The governing parties are relying on a slim majority of 76 MPs in the 151-seat Parliament, and the information on how each lawmaker voted on a bill is of great interest to the public, it noted.

GONG said that Parliament has been neglecting the basic democratic standards in adapting to the epidemiological measures, recalling that the Constitutional Court had found the provisions of Parliament's Rules of Procedure limiting the number of MPs at plenary sessions to be unconstitutional.

It said that after the Constitutional Court ruling Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković had announced a possibility of forming a task force to draw up amendments to the Rules of Procedure, but that six months have gone by since then and there has been no mention of amendments any more.

GONG appealed to Parliament to start looking for a way to regain the public confidence it has lost and urged MPs to demand greater accountability from Parliament.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.


Friday, 19 March 2021

Lawyer Vanja Juric from Gong Named Expert Group Member of SLAPP

March 19, 2021 – The European Commission has named Croatian lawyer Vanja Juric, vice-president of the Gong Council, as a member of the expert group for SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).

As a Croatian non-partisan citizens' assocciation Gong reports, yesterday, the European Commission named Croatian lawyer Vanja Juric, vice-president of the Gong Council, a member of the expert group for SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Gong is a non-partisan Croatian civil society association established to encourage citizens to participate more actively in political processes.

So-called SLAPP lawsuits have been recognized as a widely used means of silencing critical voices in public. These lawsuits are initiated by powerful actors (e.g., companies, public servants in a private capacity, etc.) to intimidate and silence those who speak in the public interest. Typical SLAPP defendants are guardians of democracy: journalists, activists, informal associations, academics, trade unions, media organizations, and civil society organizations.

By filing lawsuits for reputational damage, mental anguish, and other alleged consequences of media writing, politicians and other influential people seek to outlaw public criticism of their work effectively. In doing so, they use prosecution as a threat and a means of deterring the media from covering their work.

These lawsuits threaten the European Union's legal order, namely democracy and fundamental rights, access to justice and judicial cooperation, the implementation of EU law in the internal market field and the EU budget protection, and the threat to freedom of movement.

Therefore, 119 European civil society organizations, including Gong in Croatia, called on the European Union in the middle of last year to adopt complementary measures to protect those affected by these lawsuits. Among the required measures is adopting a directive against SLAPP lawsuits, the reform of specific regulations, and support for all lawsuit victims.

To read more news from Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 3 July 2020

GONG Asks Constitutional Court To Oversee Legality of Election

ZAGREB, July 3, 2020 - The GONG election-monitoring NGO asked the Constitutional Court on Friday to oversee the constitutionality and legality of Sunday's parliamentary election "because persons infected with coronavirus are being deprived of the right to vote."

GONG submitted its request together with signatures by 179 citizens.

The state has the duty to find a way so that voters with coronavirus vote by prescribing additional epidemiological measures for contact with them on election day, similarly to the measures prescribed for self-isolating voters, GONG said in an explanation of its request.

In a press release, GONG recalled that it had warned in time about the need to introduce postal voting due to coronavirus, "but there has been no political will."

Now, GONG said, we have a situation in which some voters are deprived of the constitutional right to vote. "Regardless of the number of those infected, regardless of the attempt to downplay the problem... the right to vote does is not taken away."

GONG said earlier that citizens, notably seniors and those in self-isolation, "must not be forced to falsely choose between health protection and voting rights" and that it was up to the government to hold the election in a way that would not endanger either.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Election Monitoring NGO Warns of Discrimination Against Voters Infected With COVID-19

ZAGREB, June 30, 2020 - The GONG election monitoring NGO on Tuesday warned that people infected with the coronavirus will not have the right to vote because the State Electoral Commission has not allowed them to vote from home while at the same time it has allowed this for people in self-isolation even though they too pose a risk.

GONG underscored that this is a denial of a fundamental political and constitutional right.

"This inconsistency leads to the question of the necessity and the ability of the measure to achieve its primary goal of protecting lives and health. The infection could in theory be spread also by people in self-isolation, hence the question is, has the right for those infected been unreasonably restricted," GONG said in a press release.

GONG added that the public had to know on the basis of which law have those infected with coronavirus been stripped of their right to vote given that Croatian law does not recognise the category of stripping someone of their right to vote, hence the procedure to do so is not prescribed.

"Seeing that the law does not foresee voting in hospitals, all citizens being treated in hospitals, not just those suffering from coronavirus, will be stripped of their constitutional right to vote," GONG underlined.

GONG advocates establishing polling stations at all hospitals and care facilities as well as introducing postal votes so as to avoid any discrimination.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

GONG Calls for Making Public List of Companies Granted Subsidies

ZAGREB, April 14, 2020 - The GONG election monitoring NGO on Tuesday called on the Croatian government to publish on a monthly basis a list of employers covered by the COVID-19 aid scheme, the total amount of subsidies and the number of workers receiving support, saying that this was the best safeguard against the possible misuse of funds.

"The public has to know who the employers are that are receiving subsidies worth billions of kuna under the job retention scheme during the coronavirus pandemic. In these extraordinary circumstances it is certainly important to protect jobs, but also to insist on transparency in order to preserve citizens' confidence in government decisions," GONG underscored in its press release.

The public has the right to know which companies have been granted subsidies and how the state budget is being spent, GONG said, adding that in the present time of a pandemic the government is especially required to demonstrate competency, but that transparency, necessary to earn trust of citizens, is no less important.

They also reiterated that in their requests for preserving democracy they had called for making public in one place a list of all national and local measures as the public should know which body has introduced them and on the basis of which legislation.

"In that way everyone will have a clearer picture of what is happening with their rights and freedoms during this crisis," GONG said.

More economy news be found in the Business section.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

GONG Calls for Greater Transparency of European Affairs

ZAGREB, February 13, 2020 - The nongovernmental organisation GONG on Thursday called on the government to use Croatia's EU presidency to enhance the transparency of working procedures for state and European affairs and to bring them closer to citizens.

"Europe cannot be close to citizens if those procedures are very non-transparent, if there is a policy of confidentiality in adopting EU laws. We believe that we have the right to know which decisions regarding European affairs are made on our behalf," GONG executive director Oriana Ivković Novokmet told a news conference.

GONG prepared recommendations for the government and ministers to enhance the transparency of European affairs and its activists were handing out leaflets with those recommendations before today's government session.

One of the recommendations concerns the participation of citizens and the public in shaping national positions. GONG believes that situations such as the one regarding roaming charges, when two Croatian governments acted against citizens' interests and did not support demands for lower roaming charges, must not happen again.

Ivković Novokmet said that the Permanent Representation of Croatia to the EU had supported GONG's request and started publishing a list of its meetings with lobbying groups, based on the model of the Finnish EU presidency.

GONG also believes that the Croatian prime minister and his ministers should do the same.

The NGO also considers sponsorships as disputable.

"The government has shown best what the risk for one's reputation can be because at the moment when the EC defined the new Green Deal it accepted the sponsorship of an oil company," she said.

GONG has also demanded that all documents of the Council of the EU and informal trialogues between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament be published as well.

Asked how realistic it was to really expect that to happen, considering the way European and Croatian bureaucracies work, she said that certain progress was possible regarding transparency.

"There are European Parliament resolutions that call for opening more to citizens and for enhancing citizens' participation because those things encourage euroscepticism... We can see that the Permanent Representation has made a small step forward - even though they do not publish the topics of the meetings - and we expect the same of the prime minister and ministers," Ivković Novokmet said.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

NGO Says Presidential Elections Proceeding Smoothly

ZAGREB, December 22, 2019 - Voting at polling stations in Croatia's presidential elections is proceeding smoothly, except for two cases of delayed opening of polling stations, reported by non-anonymous citizens to GONG, this election monitoring nongovernmental organisation said.

Citizens also reported not having been informed of procedures and deadlines for the registration of changes regarding the place where they planned to vote and of changes in the address of their polling station in relation to the previous election.

"Since that it was previously confirmed that party members had been appointed to electoral committees and the State Election Commission (DIP) replaced them, we call on citizens to report possible similar irregularities," the NGO said.

GONG said that it had also received reports of organised transport of voters to polling stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The cost of transporting voters to polling stations is treated as part of electioneering costs, GONG said but noted that, in line with DIP's opinion at the last presidential election, the cost should not be treated as such if on buses there are no pictures or messages of individual presidential candidates and the service of transport can be used by all voters under equal conditions.

In the current presidential election, an increase was registered in the number of voters who have new ID cards with permanent residence addresses abroad and it was reported in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany and Serbia, the NGO said, noting that its mobile teams were also monitoring the voting process in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

More news about the presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

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