Ombudsman says Environment Ministry violating democratic standards

Ljubljana – Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina has voiced criticism over the procedure in which the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry wants to change the environmental protection act. The ministry’s actions are not in line with modern democratic standards, which has recently become an established modus operandi of the ministry, the ombudsman says.

The ombudsman’s office reviewed the procedure based on a request by a member of the environmental NGO Rovo, with the office establishing the violation of the public’s right to participate in public governance.

Svetina said in his response to the applicant that the ministry only formally followed the provisions under which the public has the right to review and comment on key draft legislation for at least a month.

The draft changes do not follow the structure of the currently valid environmental protection act, which prevents effective overview of changes, said the ombudsman. Moreover, the explanation provided to the 309-article document is only one page long and focuses only on programme and principles.

Therefore, even though the public review period for the changes had been extended beyond the period of one month, the public was prevented from discussing the matter, the ombudsman said, adding that this was a violation of the Aarhus Convention on the public’s rights with regard to the environment.

The ombudsman recommended that the ministry make necessary amendments, with the ministry responding it would do so for the next phase of interdepartmental coordination. But the ombudsman’s office says this should be done as soon as possible and at a stage when all options are still open, adding that public debate is severely limited due to the absence of the explanation.

The ombudsman believes that reserving a comprehensive draft for the later stages of the legislative process, coupled with a short public review period and the fact that the draft had been put up for review with virtually no explanation “cannot be considered as actions compliant with modern standards of democracy”.

The ombudsman’s office also said that poorly explained or unexplained draft bills had become an established modus operandi of the ministry, raising “serious concern due to a detected broader degradation of basic postulates of environmental protection, both in terms of national regulation and international standards”.

The ombudsman’s office counts its recommendation to the ministry as not having been accepted. It will, however, insist on it. It has also urged the ministry to rethink its approach.