Technology in service of the right to information – Central Register of Contracts to be created in Poland

On 17 September 2021, the Sejm adopted the so-called anti-corruption bill authored by the Kukiz’15 party, and on 6 October it was passed to the Senate committees. Our representatives, Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć and Adam Dobrawy, participated in the session, presenting the our Association’s opinion on the Act (link to the opinion). After we presented our opinion, senator Krzysztof Kwiatkowski offered to table two amendments to the Bill — the introduction of a Central Register of Contracts and the obligation to provide a legal basis for the exclusion of openness. The Senate approved these amendments. The bill went back to the Sejm, where 100% of MPs agreed with the Senate’s amendments on the issues mentioned.

The original version of the law made it mandatory for all public institutions to publish contract registers. However, each would do so separately, on its own Public Information Bulletin page (an official on-line publication where each institution makes public information available without request). This would mean tens of thousands of separate records with comparable information, but their presentation would vary in quality and they would not necessarily always be machine processable. The Citizens Network Watchdog Poland called for the creation of a uniform IT system for keeping and publishing a register of contracts that would enable searches using multiple filters and keywords, and to which data would be regularly submitted by the obliged entities. This would ensure a uniformly high standard of publication of the register of contracts. 

We also stressed that for the sake of the credibility of the published data, a transparent approach is needed to situations where, for specific reasons, information on a concluded contracts cannot be published. Otherwise, it would be difficult to verify whether the data has been rightly anonymised. 

The Senate introduced amendments which transferred the obligation of creating the register from thousands of units of the public finance sector, performing similar work, to a single competent institution – the Ministry of Finance, which had already created e.g. the standard audit file for tax or the register of invoices. Public finance sector units are only supposed to provide data to the register. Under the amendments, it will also be necessary to state the grounds for exemptions from openness (if such occur). The Senate also added a threshold for contracts and placed in it at PLN 500.

In the Sejm (on October 14,2021), these amendments were supported by 100% of MPs – 448 out of 448 voting. It is a huge win for transparency, social involvement (citizens were involved in convincing the MPs) and the ability to vote beyond political divisions. This situation was exceptional and unprecedented in the Polish Parliament.

Link to Watchdog Poland’s opinion presentation during Senate committees’ meeting – 6 October 2021.

The provisions answer the expectations that have been expressed by the citizens since the end of 2012 (for almost 9 years). More on that can be found in our text Civic Miracle and in interview with our member Adam Dobrawy. Some mentions also in the interview with other members: Jacek Werder, Krzysztof Pietruszewski and Michał Zemełka.

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