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Ombudsman Takes Stand in Relation to a Practice on Handling Public Interest Disclosures

The Ministry of Innovation and Technology caused an impropriety related to the right to petition and the right to fair administration of official matters when it failed to provide comprehensive information on the changes in the provisions pertaining to gas appliances, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights concluded in his report. Dr. Ákos Kozma requested the Minister of Innovation and Technology to ensure that the acting organisational units of his Ministry pay particular attention to the handling of public interest disclosures.

In his public interest disclosure submitted through the protected electronic system operated by the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, the petitioner objected to the introduction of the legislative changes pertaining to the ecodesign requirements for space heaters and combination heaters in Hungary in respect of residential gas users. In addition to formulating specific professional recommendations, the petitioner also called the attention of the legislator to the difficulties of the technology shift process, as well as to the inconsistencies between legislation and its practical implementation, with special regard to the problems of condominiums that share a chimney.

The Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights forwarded the public interest disclosure to two acting bodies, namely, to the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM) and the Ministry of Interior (BM). Following that, upon the recommendation of the ITM, the Office made the anonymous excerpt of the public interest disclosure available to the Prime Minister’s Office as well – with a view to examining the possibility of placing the exhaust gas outlet on the building façade. The contacted ministries responded to the public interest disclosure through the protected electronic system. 

In his request for review, the petitioner objected to the response of the ITM. In his view, the body entitled to proceed failed to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into the public interest disclosure as its response was only of general nature, and it also disregarded the technical characteristics outlined in detail in the public interest disclosure. Therefore, the response could not be interpreted in the context of the substance of the public interest disclosure. 

In his report on Case No. AJB-549/2021, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights pointed out that the ITM formally complied with its procedural obligation to investigate the public interest disclosure by uploading the closing letter through the protected electronic system within the time limit. However, it inquired into the public interest disclosure in its full extent and sent its information in connection therewith only in the course of the review procedure, with a significant delay, upon repeated requests and warnings, which resulted in the violation of the above-cited fundamental rights and the requirement of legal certainty arising from the principle of the rule of law. 

Ombudsman Dr. Ákos Kozma requested the Minister of Innovation and Technology to ensure that the acting organisational units of his Ministry pay particular attention to the handling of public interest disclosures, as well as to fully comply with the relevant legal regulations, and respond to the requests within the time limit prescribed by law. In the context of the report, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights drew the attention of the relevant ministry to the importance of providing information to the public – especially to the most vulnerable social groups – on investment aids for the thermal modernisation of households in a broader, efficient and targeted way, stressing that a number of positive steps had recently been taken in terms of providing information to the public in the course of the implementation of policy measures on energy efficiency. 

For the report, please click on the following link: AJB-549/2021.