Last week Transitions ran a commentary by a former official in the international organization that exercises oversight over Kosovo’s government. It criticized the no-bid transfer of public property to a private university. The writer’s former employer, the International Civilian Office, has said he violated a confidentiality agreement he signed as a condition of his employment there. Transitions then wrote a commentary about the propriety of requiring such an agreement from someone who works on public business in a publicly funded organization. The ICO’s response came too late to incorporate into our editorial, but I want to share it anyway. Here it is, from Andy McGuffie, spokesman for the ICO.
You are quite right that decisions/documents about public property – expropriations for example – should be available to the public in the same way as they are in other countries – this is the responsibility of the Privatization Agency of Kosovo including its Board and the Government, in view of their respective roles. We certainly have no objection to anybody involved in either institution (including Mr Capussela) speaking about their decision making as members of those institutions in public and in line with those institutions’ rules. Indeed we have been encouraging the Kosovo Government to do so on this matter of public interest.
Speaking for ourselves, it is standard practice for most international organizations and indeed domestic institutions (as well as in other sectors eg commercial) to include in employment contracts a confidentiality clause relating to public disclosure of internal processes/exchanges. This is where a distinction needs to be made between the proper availability of information/documentation about public resources and the conduct of policy processes: in regard to the latter, officials may be unwilling to give frank advice within their organization if they think it will quickly appear in the public domain (you may know that in the UK’s FoI legislation for example, likelihood of impeding provision of policy advice is a ground for exemption). And organizations have to be able to function with the confidence of their stakeholders. Comparing this to requirements made of people working for an intelligence agency is somewhat over-dramatic.
It may be that the position of the ICO is more complicated due to our not being subject to Kosovo’s laws on freedom of information, however that is why we have made robust efforts since 2008 to provide as much information as we can to media queries for example. In response to Mr Capussela’s incomplete account of the ICO’s activity, I have spent a fair bit of time stating publicly to media that the ICO remains engaged in this expropriation issue, that we do not think that the Government or PAK have yet provided full explanation of the public benefit of this project and that we continue to work for this to happen.