Transparency is one of the key stones of both democracy and the way that business is now being conducted in Romania and in most societies.
No longer is it acceptable for a group of persons or indeed groups to get together and make decisions for the greater good, without the greater good being allowed to challenge those decisions and in some cases change them. These paternalistic views are those of the 1920s to 1960 and now are seen as very outmoded.
In Romania in the 1990s the attitude was that the Government and business leaders knew best. Time and the accession to the EU has now changed this attitude. In the 1990s the politicians and local authorities thought and acted without any real consultation with their constituents, and the majority acted in their own interests and those of their contacts. Their view was what they did was correct even if it was not. This attitude still prevails in some quarters but as mentioned above entry into the EU and the use of modern communications has brought about changes in this attitude.
As a younger generation develops and more NGOs such as The Ratiu Foundation for Democracy develop programs that teach the rules of democracy and responsibility both at the state, corporate and local level then people become more empowered and ask questions on the way that society is organized and businesses are run.
Romania despite everything that is written about took the first steps in this opening up process in 2001. The Romanian parliament passed the Access to Information Law (Law 554/2001). This law is similar to the “Freedom of Information Act” passed in England. The Law is not perfect, but is a start. As Romanian lawyers we are aware of this Law 554/2001 and ask clients to consider it when the circumstances permit.
The purpose of this act is to allow a private individual or company to request a government institution to give information about its business and decisions that it has taken. The term government institution includes state owned companies such as CFR and Tarom and similar organizations. The qualifying criteria seem to be that the Romanian Government can direct the actions of the body. So therefore if majority of shares in a Romanian company are owned by the Government, directly or through a Ministry or their organization, then that company qualifies.
Under article 6 the State institution is obliged to give the information provided that its own internal rules do not prohibit the giving of this information. The information is to be given within thirty days of the request. The restriction on giving information cannot be arbitrary and the reasons for non-disclosure must be founded on real and proper grounds. This provision takes the majority of business conducted by the police and the security services and military outside the majority of requests. Despite this limitation it has been shown in the United Kingdom not all information held by the security services is covered by the prohibitions.
In my view the provisions of this act should be more widely used by International Romanian law firms and Romanian lawyers generally to bring on behalf of their clients Government and Governmental institutions including local authorities to account.
Information is power and as business decisions in Romania are becoming more transparent this will further erode corruption in the business world which has held back the development of the country. The law is there and should be used both for information on the past and also allow research so that new work and projects be obtained.