Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) has been monitoring access to public information in Georgia since 2010. IDFI's systematic monitoring has made a significant contribution in identifying key trends and problems in access to public information, implementation of effective public control mechanisms, and development of public sector accountability and open governance.
In the year 2021, similar to the previous year, the importance of access to public information became especially prominent given the crisis situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Against the background of the pandemic, the risks of opaque and irrational management of budget funds increased significantly, which was due to the existing challenges related to access to information, significant increase in funding received from abroad, procurement without tender procedures, and more.
In 2021, the state of emergency in the country did not lead to any legal restrictions on the disclosure of public information, unlike the previous year. Nevertheless, other challenges related to the restriction of access to public information associated with the pandemic remained on the agenda in 2021. For example, difficulties specific to the pandemic situation, such as those related to remote work by public servants, possible spread of the virus in various agencies, direct involvement of a particular agency in the fight against the pandemic, and other similar factors, hindered the mobilization of resources necessary to provide access to information. At the same time, the situation created by the coronavirus pandemic may have become an additional motive for restricting public information for unscrupulous officials.
In 2021, there was an indirect legal restriction on the release of public information in the form of the number of days off defined by the Government of Georgia during the fight against the pandemic, which in turn led to the legal suspension of the disclosure of public information during these days.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, IDFI continued to actively monitor access to information in public institutions in 2021. The long-standing practice of naming public institutions as the most open or closed agencies helps maintain high standards of accountability in similar extraordinary situations and to encourage healthy competition in the public sector.
This report presents an assessment of the state of access to public information in Georgia based on data from 2021. The report also includes an analysis of trends in the disclosure of public information in 2010-2021 and ratings of access to public information by public institutions.
IDFI information accessibility methodology and criteria developed in 2011 were used in compiling the ratings. While compiling the ratings, we used the methodology and criteria for assessing access to information developed in 2011 by IDFI.
In 2021, significant steps were taken to increase the effectiveness of parliamentary control over access to information in the public sector.Specifically, the Committee on Human Rights and Civil Integration of the Parliament of Georgia began the implementation of the commitments made in the format of the Permanent Parliamentary Council for Open Government in 2017, which prescribes the introduction of effective review procedures and response mechanisms for the so-called December 10 reports related to disclosure of public information.This report also reviews the results of the research conducted by IDFI in the framework of this process and its role in the conclusions of the thematic research group of the Parliament of Georgia.
- Out of 8 446 requests sent to 285 public institutions in 2021, IDFI received a response to 6,961 (82%);
- Out of 8 446 requests sent to public institutions in 2021, IDFI received information within the prescribed 10-day period in 4,545 cases (54%);
- In 2021, a large percentage of public institutions (28%) left requests unanswered or refused to submit internal audit reports;
- In 2021, the instances of unanswered requests related to the fight against the pandemic, which would understandably be of high public interest, were particularly problematic. For example, the Ministry of Health refused to provide information on the expenses for purchasing coronavirus vaccines, cases of coronavirus confirmation during treatment in medical facilities, and others.
- In 2021, by category of institutions, the highest percentage of requests were left unanswered or denied by state-owned LLCs and NNLEs (80% unanswered, denied); the highest percentage of complete responses (84% complete) was observed in the group of public institutions that includes: the Government and Ministries of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, and the Administration of South Ossetia.
- In 2021, 13 public institutions issued public information in full and within a period of 10 days (among these were: the Office of the Public Defender, the Office of the State Inspector, Information Center on NATO and the European Union);
- In 2021, the number of public institutions issuing public information in full and within a period of 10 days decreased by 6.
- In 2021, IDFI noted the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth of Georgia as the most closed public institution;
- In 2021, in addition to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, another 15 institutions (including 14 local self-government city halls and councils) were found to have left all requests from IDFI without response;
- Among the central public institutions, the highest rates of access to public information were observed in the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia (95.93%) and the Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia - 95.65%, and the lowest indicators were observed in the Administration of the Government of Georgia (30.44%) and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth (0%);
- The rate of responses from public institutions in 2021 improved by two percent compared to the results of the previous year (82%);
- In 2021, the percentage of complete responses increased by 2% compared to the previous year, while the percentage of unanswered requests decreased by 4%;
- In 2021, the percentage of unanswered requests by the agencies subordinated to the ministries decreased by 25%, while the unanswered requests by self-governing units increased by 10%.
- In 2021, the rate of timely disclosure of public information improved by 5%, reaching 54%. Despite the progress, this figure is the lowest since 2012, with the exception of the year 2020.
According to the results of the monitoring conducted by IDFI in 2021, the quality of access to public information in the country increased by 2% compared to the previous year. The slightly improved rate of responses from public institutions in 2021, can, on the one hand, be attributed to the weakening impact of the extraordinary situation created in public institutions as a result of the pandemic and, on the other hand, positive changes in access to information in individual institutions (e.g., the Ministry of Justice system), improving the practice of low accountability established over the years, which has had a positive impact on access to information in the public sector in Georgia overall.
The response rate to letters sent in 2021 (82%) still maintains the 80% critical threshold established after 2014, which is largely due to the high accountability demonstrated by certain public institutions.Specifically, public institutions such as the Office of the State Inspector, the National Statistics Office, the Office of the Public Defender, and others have, for years (including in times of crisis), maintained the best rate of access to public information and duly fulfilled their statutory obligations.
The trends identified in the 2021 monitoring process raise questions about the institutional sustainability of accountability mechanisms in some agencies.For instance, after the departure of Tea Tsulukiani as Minister, the Ministry of Justice in 2021 issued public information that had been closed to interested parties under her leadership.At the same time, after the appointment of Tea Tsulukiani as Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, said Ministry did not release any information that it had been disclosing smoothly (before the establishment of the Ministry of Culture and Sports separately) in previous years.Problems with institutional sustainability of accountability mechanisms can be linked to the fact that some municipal bodies leave unanswered requests in the pre-election period.As a result, in 2021, the number of requests left unanswered by self-governing units increased by 10%.
The impact of personal factors and expected political changes on the degree of publicity of administrative bodies clearly indicates the need to establish effective mechanisms in the country to ensure access to information.
In 2021, the restriction of access to information by public institutions, which have a special role in promoting the protection of democratic values in the country, should be considered a particularly noteworthy problem.For example, the Administration of the Government of Georgia, which is one of the main coordinating bodies in the fight against the pandemic, should be an uninterrupted source of information for citizens. The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, as well as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, given the importance of their international reputation and the size of the budget funds administered by them, should be distinguished by a high degree of transparency.
The practice of recent years clearly demonstrates an improper attitude towards access to information among state-owned LLCs and NNLEs. Although these agencies often exercise public legal authority and manage public finances, in the case of requests sent by IDFI, they either leave the requests without a response or explain that they are not an administrative body and are therefore not subject to the obligation to provide public information. In this regard, the strategic dispute between IDFI and NNLE Media Academy in 2020 may be of particular strategic importance, as the agency was instructed to provide the requested information as a result of the dispute by the decisions of the first and second instances.
It is noteworthy that in 2021, effective steps have been taken to increase the effectiveness of parliamentary control over access to information of the public sector. The implementation of IDFI’s recommendations set out in the thematic inquiry of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Civil Integration of the Parliament of Georgia will provide an opportunity to increase the efficiency and scale of monitoring access to public information in the country.
From March 21, 2020, a state of emergency was declared on the entire territory of Georgia, restricting certain rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Among them, the deadlines for issuing public information were suspended. The suspension also extended to cases where public information was requested prior to the declaration of a state of emergency and the deadline for issuing the information had not expired. The state of emergency lasted until May 22, so access to public information was suspended for 2 months in 2020.
This material has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. Responsibility for the content rests entirely with the creator. Sida does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.
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