Environmental inspections to improve accountability to citizens
State inspectorates with environmental competencies merely adhere to the prescribed legal minimum for informing the public and do not provide sufficiently substantial information about their work and the complaints submitted by citizens. They do not make public presentations of the semi-annual reports on the achieved results every six months. This is shown by the assessment of transparency and accountability of environmental inspectorates made by CED Florozon, in collaboration with the Institute of Communication Studies as part of the “Clear it Up” campaign.
The assessment refers to the State Inspectorate of Environment (SEI), the State Inspectorate for Forestry and Hunting (SIFH), the State Inspectorate for Agriculture (SIA) and the State Inspectorate for Technical Inspection (SITI). Although these inspectorates consider their reports to provide meaningful information on the quality and effects of their operations, most of them (SEI, SIFH and SITI) abide by the legal minimum that allows only quantitative data review.
The reports do not contain information on the manner in which steps are taken post identifying irregularities during the performed inspections. From the analysis of the periodic reports for the second half of 2020, no data can be found on the epilogue of the identified irregularities during the inspections, with the exception of the SIA which provides an overview of the measures taken. Inspectorates should also improve the way of presenting the results achieved by making a comparison between the planned and conducted inspections in the current and previous reporting period, so that their achieved results can be assessed.
The inspectorates should harmonize the reports with the international obligations arising from the European law i.e., The Resolution on the Minimum Criteria for Environmental Inspection and the Industrial Emissions Directive. According to these documents, the reports from the inspections should be kept in an easily accessible database, to be publicly available within two months after the inspection and a register should be prepared containing the legal entities to be controlled.
Special attention in the reports should be given to information referring to the complaints submitted by the citizens, the measures taken after those complaints and how they were resolved. In the reports of some inspectorates there is no data on the number of complaints submitted by citizens, so data is lacking on the number of rejected and processed complaints and the manner of resolving them.
Regarding the number of reports submitted by the citizens, there is a big discrepancy between the inspectorates – SEI records about 300 reports per year, SIA 54, SITI 23, and SIFH records only 4 reports per year. This indicates the different approach of the inspectorates for promotion and affirmation of online tools for submitting complaints that will be readily accessible and easy to use, which would encourage civic participation in the inspection process. SEI and SIA have already developed such web tools, while SIFH and SITI still have no such tools in place.
The inspectorates rejected the submitted complaints from the citizens most often when they considered that it was not possible to act on anonymous and vague i.e., partial complaints or that the inspectorate had no jurisdiction over the complaints. However, inspectorates need to constantly educate the public about their environmental mandate in order to increase the number of properly submitted complaints from citizens.
Inspectorates should also establish an electronic mailbox for irregularities, complaints and grievances from citizens about their work. The SIFH and SIA reports contain such information, while the SEI and SITI do not report such data. SIA pointed out that the complaints mostly refer to the work of the inspectors and were submitted by a disgruntled party in a procedure where the inspector acted.
All inspectorates have published reports on their work on the websites that can be downloaded freely, but mandatory public presentations of the results achieved every six months are recommended to improve openness to the public.
So far, no inspectorate with environmental responsibilities has received any remarks on its report from the Inspection Council.
The assessment of the accountability of the inspectorates with environmental competencies was made based on the analysis of their annual plans for 2020 and 2021, the periodic reports from the second half of 2020, the websites of the inspectorates and of multiple laws, and the representatives of the inspectorates also answered a questionnaire.
Download the full report HERE.