De Jonge does not change alternative WOB approach and appeals

The Ministry of Health (VWS) continues to stick to the alternative way it handles WOB requests on corona policy. The judge ruled last month that this process is not allowed.

Since the beginning of the corona crisis, the ministry itself decides when, which documents come out, while WOB requests should be handled by piece and within eight weeks. Nieuwsuur filed a lawsuit because of that process.

In that case, three weeks ago, the judge decided that the Ministry should deal with WOB requests by piece. VWS now appeals against that ruling, despite the fact that a majority of House of Representatives called Minister Hugo de Jonge to listen to the court and not to disclose โ€œpart-picksโ€ information.

Nieuwsuur made WOB requests in June 2020 on three topics: consultation with the Outbreak Management Team, the corona app, and child contagiousness research. Nieuwsuur has been waiting for a response for over a year.

The court ruled that the requested documents should still be delivered within two months, under penalty of increased penalty payments. But the Ministry says that it is not able to give the documents so quickly and is now asking for a provisional provision (some sort of interim proceedings) against the ruling.

Fifty extra lawyers

The department claims that it is โ€œpractically not enforceableโ€ to disclose the documents and deal with individual requests within the legal two-month period. In a letter to the Chamber, the Minister points out the millions of corona-related documents to be โ€œsubstantially assessedโ€.

โ€œIf all WOB requests were dealt with separately and therefore passed through the file of two million documents per request, it would result in delays and fragmented publicity,โ€ writes De Jonge.

VWS acknowledges that the alternative way of working is not flawless: โ€œThe assessment system has suffered disruptions in recent months, so lawyers were less likely to work.โ€

The Ministry adopts fifty additional lawyers to implement the current process, which the judge has thus declared controversial.

Professor of Constitutional Law Wim Voermans mentions the Ministry‘s response remarkably: โ€œVWS tries to put the overdue maintenance bill away from the WOB applicants. The Ministry hardly archived or did not organise those documents in such a way that they could make them available quickly if they should.โ€

โ€œWhich library says to a visitor when asking for a book: ‘Impossible! Do you know how many books we have here?โ€ Those volumes themselves say nothing and are no excuse.โ€