State secretary: Officials tend to classify documents out of convenience

Taimar Peterkop.
Taimar Peterkop. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Officials sometimes classify documents as for "internal use only" simply because it's convenient. There have even been cases where the system automatically classifies a document, State Secretary Taimar Peterkop said.

"I have yet to meet an official obsessed with classifying documents. Rather, certain processes have been made very convenient, and we have seen cases where the document system has classified documents as for internal use only automatically. We are rather dealing with convenience than some sort of fetish to classify as many documents as possible," Peterkop told Vikerraadio Wednesday.

The state secretary said that while Estonia also has some problems with disclosure, the country is nevertheless very open when viewed in global context as official information is automatically public, unless the "internal use only" box is ticked. Elsewhere, information can be non-public by default and only disclosed after analysis, he suggested.

Asked how to reduce the number of classified documents, Peterkop said there could be a special working group that would start going through ministries and agencies in terms of classification practices and shortcomings.

"Perhaps it would be enough to take inventory like this in just a few places before the others fall in line. It just requires a little resources, attention and resources, and getting to work."

The state secretary added that the effort required is less than what was needed when the Public Information Act was laid down.

Peterkop also defended the practice of keeping cabinet deliberations out of the public eye, suggesting that it is both legal and sensible. Making deliberations public from the first would cause the debates to move somewhere else. Politicians want a chance to discuss matters before making them public, the top state official said.

"There is a procedure for involving the public. You present something, bring the public on board after something has been agreed. Deliberating over the state budget before it is made public is sensible and has always been done this way."

Regarding the recent practice of leaving very short periods for public feedback after bills are unveiled, Peterkop said the trend has been deepening for some time and could be the result of rapidly changing governments and frequent political crises.

"The political elections cycle has become very short indeed – I have served as state secretary for four and a half years during which time there have been five governments. This means that a single government has, on average, spent just one year in office. And if they want to get things done in that time, then our recent decision-making culture and regulation is probably no longer sufficient –we need to start doing thing quicker," Peterkop said.

But the state secretary added that he hopes such expedited bills will remain exceptions and that politicians will return to practical inclusion.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski

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