Georgia: Civil Society Parallel Assessment of Compliance with Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 16.10.2

News | Rule of Law | Good Governance | Publications 17 November 2017

Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 16.10.2 stipulates that states should adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information. This document provides an evaluation of the extent and quality to which ten selected public institutionsin Georgia implement legal and policy guarantees of freedom of information. The methodology used for the evaluation focuses on the second part of the Indicator alone, namely, implementation of guarantees. The report is prepared by the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) based on the methodology developed by the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet). The rating and evaluation of existing right to information (RTI) laws is available at - www.RTI-Rating.org.

 

IDFI selected 10 public institutions for the evaluation and tried to cover central public institutions, ministries as well as regulatory and special service bodies:

 

1. Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA)

2. Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development (MoESD)

3. Government Administration (GA)

4. Ministry of Justice (MoJ)

5. Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection (MoENP)

6. Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs (MoLHSA)

7. Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure (MoRDI)

8. President’s Administration (PA)

9. Georgian National Energy and Water Supply Regulatory Commission (Commission)

10. United Water Supply Company (State LLC) (Company)

 

The selected institutions were then assessed by their performance across three areas of implementation, namely:

 

(i) Proactive Disclosure - the extent to which they proactively disclose key information;

(ii) Institutional Measures - the institutional measures they have put in place to implement RTI legislation; and

(iii) Responding to Requests - the manner in which they respond to freedom to information (FOI) requests.

 

 

Executive Summary

 

Monitoring results of the extent to which public institutions implement freedom of information legislation in Georgia demonstrated that public institutions do, overall, follow the requirements of Georgian legislation. They respond to freedom of information (FOI) requests, run public information web-pages on their official web-sites and implement certain institutional measures, such as appointing FOI officers and publishing annual reports on the implementation of right to information (RTI) legislation.

 

However, the monitoring also identified considerable gaps regarding responses to FOI requests, implementation of certain institutional measures and proactive disclosure of information.

 

Public institutions lack a comprehensive understanding of their legal obligation to respond to FOI requests and, in certain cases, ignore them altogether, in this way failing to fulfil their responsibilities. Responding to FOI request in a timely manner is also a problem. A number of public institutions still fail to inform applicants when they need to use the 10 day period to prepare a response to a FOI request.

 

IDFI found that the practice of training FOI officers on the topics of freedom of information is rare and very much an exception. Moreover, none of the evaluated public institutions had developed guidelines for receiving and responding to FOI requests. When preparing their annual reports on the implementation of FOI legislation, institutions also fail to include information on the time taken to respond to each request, as well as descriptions of their content.

 

Another problem identified as a result of monitoring is the fact that public institutions do not fully publish information that is required to be proactively disclosed online by Georgian legislation. Information left undisclosed in this way most often includes quarterly data on planned and actual budgets, and planned public discussions. Most public institutions also have not integrated an online module for requesting information on their websites; and some of them have not published the contact information of the civil servant responsible for responding to FOI requests on their websites.

 

Finally, even though the Georgian legislation does not require public institutions to publish databases, IDFI finds it regrettable that none of the institutions decided to go further than the requirements of the law and proactively publish databases online which are already ready-made and available at public institutions. Thus publishing them online would not require any additional time and commitment.

 

 

Main Observations

 

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests

 

- Three of the evaluated institutions, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, and the Administration of the Government of Georgia, failed to respond to the FOI requests sent by IDFI.  Based on IDFI’s practice, these Ministries generally have a poor performance in terms of access to information.

 

- Only two institutions, Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development, and United Water Supply Company, notified IDFI that they would need to use the 10 day period in order to respond to our FOI requests.

 

- The Ministry of Justice provided a full response to our requests with considerable delay, without any prior notification on the need for using the 10 day period for gathering information.

 

- The Georgian National Energy and Water Supply Regulatory Commission was the only institution that responded to our FOI requests fully and in a timely manner. The institution informed us about their need to use the 10 day period to gather information and provided a response within this period.

 

- Access to draft laws at early stages of development proved rather difficult, since the Georgian legislation does not obligate public institutions to disclose laws under development at any stage prior to their initiation to the Parliament. Upon request, public institutions responded that such draft laws constituted documents of internal usage and could be made public only after their initiation to the Parliament.  

 

 

Proactive disclosure

 

- The Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection was the only institution publishing information on scheduled public discussions. However, information on budget and public procurement was not up to-date.

 

- The Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure distinguished itself by adding a public information request module to its. Visitors are able to send FOI requests to the Ministry directly from its website. 

 

 

Institutional measures

 

- The Georgian National Energy and Water Supply Regulatory Commission was the institution that provided freedom of information trainings for its staff. The training was held on June 13-14, 2017.

 

- The Georgian National Energy and Water Supply Regulatory Commission distinguished itself by including a description of each FOI request received in 2016 in its annual report.

 

- All evaluated institutions, except the United Water Supply Company, published annual reports on access to information.

 

- None of the annual reports on access to information contained information on the time taken to respond to FOI requests.

 

- None of the evaluated institutions have developed guidelines for receiving and responding to FOI requests.

 

- The United Water Supply Company was the only institution which did not have any institutional measures for implementing the right to information (RTI) legislation. It has not appointed an information officer, does not prepare annual reports on the statistics of received requests, has not adopted any regulation on access to information, and has developed neither an RTI implementation plan nor guidelines for receiving and responding to FOI requests.

 

 

Recommendations

 

Based on the observations made as a result of the evaluation, IDFI urges public institutions to consider the following recommendations:

 

- All public institutions must respect the requirements of the law and respond to FOI requests in a timely manner. The practice of ignoring FOI requests is unacceptable.  

 

- Public institutions must notify applicants in cases when they need 10 day period for gathering requested information and providing them with responses. 

 

- It is crucial for public entities to disclose information on the draft laws under development before their initiation to the Parliament of Georgia. 

 

- Public institutions should include more detailed information in their annual Freedom of Information Reports, indicating not only statistics on received requests and measures taken, but also descriptions of the content of each request and the time taken to respond to each of them.

 

- Public institutions must make their FOI registries available online.

 

- Integrating web-page for requesting public information on web-sites of public institutions simplifies the process of submitting FOI requests, thus public institutions should develop such web-pages. This will enable visitors to request information directly from web-sites of public institutions.

 

- Public institutions should provide their FOI officers with relevant trainings on freedom of expression and freedom of information.

 

- It is highly important for public entities to develop guidelines for receiving and responding to FOI requests, the guidelines should describe the process in simple non legal terms and should be available to anyone interested.

 

 

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