Access to public information

Georgia is committed to further increase access to public information.

Completion Status:
Not fulfilled

Commitment filtering:

Specific:yes

Based on the text in the national statement, this commitment is a general statement of intent to increase access to public information and it is therefore not considered to be specific. However, an interview with the relevant representative of the Administration of Government provided further clarity on the commitment wording and related activities. Specifically, this commitment implies the adoption of a new, standalone freedom of information (FoI) law in Georgia, which is a long-standing commitment included in the 2014-2015 and in the 2016-2017 National OGP Action Plans,[1] in the 2015 National Anti-Corruption Strategy[2] and in the 2019-2020 Public Administration Reform Action Plan.[3] In those action plans, the government committed to developing the draft law in consultations with civil society organisations and submitting it to parliament. The FoI draft was developed in October 2014 through active consultations with civil society.[4] This is one of the vital commitments stemming from the Association Agreement between the EU and Georgia[5] and included in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 National Action Plans for its implementation.[6] With this additional information in mind, the commitment can be considered specific enough since a commitment to an FoI law moves the country towards achieving recognised international standards in this area of work.

[1] Georgia’s National OGP Action Plan of 2014-2015, pp.19-20, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/OGP-AP-GEORGIA.pdf; Georgia’s National OGP Action Plan of 2016-2017, pp. 18-19, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Georgia_NAP_2016-2018_ENG.docx

[2] Georgia’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy of 2015, pp.20-23,

[3] Georgia’s Public Administration Reform Action Plan of 2019-2020, pp. 14-15, http://www.gov.ge/files/425_78221_358698_PAR-Action-Plan-2019-2020_Explanatory-Part.pdf

[4] OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM): Georgia Progress Report 2016−2017, pp. 50-52, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Georgia_MidTerm_Report_2016-2018_EN.pdf

[5] EU-Georgia Association Agreement, August 30, 2014, Article 17.1.e https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:22014A0830(02)

[6] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, National Action Plans for the implementation of the Association Agreement and Association Agenda

Measurable:yes

The commitment text does not identify any measurable actions to indicate whether it will have been achieved. However, based on the feedback received from stakeholders and on the aforementioned commitments made in other action plans, approving the existing draft FoI law by the government and submitting it to parliament for adoption can be identified as a measurable action from these various action plans to measure the progress made in implementation.

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Evaluation:

This is a long-standing, seven year commitment from the Georgian government to improve legislative and institutional FoI framework by adopting a new, standalone law with stronger safeguards to increase access to public information. The draft FoI law that was prepared with active involvement of CSOs in 2014 included the following important innovations:

  • an independent oversight body, a freedom of information commissioner with the authority to issue administrative fines to public agencies that violate the FoI legislation
  • a unified registry to categorise and manage public information, and to allow quick and simple access to it
  • an expanded list of agencies responsible for granting access to information, including state-owned enterprises
  • reduced number of working days from ten to three for issuing readily available information
  • an obligation of public agencies to explain the damage that could be inflicted on the state and society by publishing the classified information as well as their obligation to declassify secret information that is in high public demand1

In October 2014, this draft was shared with the Ministry of Justice, which put it on hold for more than two years. In May 2017, the ministry shared the updated draft with the members of the Anti-Corruption Council and the OGP Forum. The latter provided their feedback. As part of the OGP Forum, Georgian CSOs prioritised the following:

  • expanding the provisions of the new FoI law to the state-owned companies
  • proactively publishing detailed data on individual salaries, bonuses and business trip allowances of public servants
  • defining more clearly what type of information can be classified and under what conditions personal information in high public demand can be declassified
  • defining clearly who will be responsible for making the decision on disclosing the classified information based on the public interest test and what specific criteria will be applied in such instances

However, the ministry has not reacted to that feedback, and the draft has not been agreed upon within the government to this day.2 3

Challenges to effective commitment implementation
 

The implementation of this commitment has stalled since 2017. According to the OGP IRM assessment, the main challenge in the adoption of a standalone FoI law is the resistance from law enforcement and security agencies that are reluctant to subject themselves to the provision on the creation of a new monitoring and enforcement body, information commissionaire, with a mandate to impose sanctions for the violation of the law.4 The lack of coordination and communication between different public agencies to explain the novelties introduced by the draft could be another reason for delay.

Finally, the fact that in 2020–2021 the OGP and anti-corruption policy coordination function, including working on the FoI draft law, moved from the Ministry of Justice to the Administration of the Government (AoG),5 followed by the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, has further hampered this process. It is noteworthy that in the case of the OGP, the transfer of coordination functions to the AoG was based on the CSO recommendations to ensure that the OGP process is more efficient and that the state agencies feel more responsibility to their commitments.6 However, in the case of the Anti-Corruption Council, the transfer of functions to the AoG was the government’s hasty, arbitrary decision, not based on CSO recommendations. While these transfers and the Covid-19 pandemic may be legitimate reasons for delay, the CSO representatives interviewed for this report believe that the real reason is the lack of the government’s will, stemming from the uncontrolled domination of the ruling party over almost all state institutions in Georgia. It is indicative that most of the work on improving the existing FoI framework was done seven years ago and there has not been any major progress made since then.

Opportunities to accelerate commitment implementation
 

According to CSOs and an independent consultant interviewed for this report, a major opportunity for the government to improve the existing legislative and institutional framework of the FoI in Georgia is to use the vast resources and the strong willingness for assistance from international entities and platforms, such as the EU, the OECD, USAID and the OGP, all of which hold this issue as a high priority. At the same time, the reconvening of the anti-corruption and OGP councils at the AoG will provide these international entities and local CSOs with an opportunity to raise this issue again directly with the relevant public agencies. The post-election environment after the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 municipal elections could also create a new opportunity to put the FoI issue back on the high political agenda. These elections, especially the parliamentary election, made all stakeholders focus on election and court reforms that overshadowed the OGP and anti-corruption reforms. Political tensions were extremely high between the ruling party and the opposition in the pre-election period and afterwards, and the key donors such as the USAID and the EU that provide the largest contributions for OGP and anti-corruption reforms were busy dissipating those tensions and the resulting crisis.

Recommendations

The government and the parliament should expedite the adoption of the existing draft FoI law that was developed seven years ago. This should be accompanied with a quick round of consultations with stakeholders engaged in the drafting process. The government can take commitments in the 2022–2023 National Anti-Corruption Strategy and the OGP Action Plan to support this process; however; it might not be necessary given this is a pre-existing commitment and the only thing required at this stage is the willingness of the Government to fulfil it.

The government should use the opportunities from international donors, such as the EU, the OECD and the USAID who place a high emphasis on FoI to move the adoption process of the draft law forward.

The government also needs to take the increasing public demand and calls for reform by CSOs and media outlets seriously.

 

Sources:
  1. OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism, Georgia Progress Report 2016−2017https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Georgia_MidTerm_Report_2016-2018_EN.pdf
    30 Dec 2021
  2. OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), Georgia End-of-Term Report 2016−2018, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Georgia_End-of-Term_Report_2016-2018_EN.pdf
    30 Dec 2021
  3. Government Decree #110 on Approving the Statute and Composition of the Open Government Interagency Coordination Council  https://www.matsne.gov.ge/ka/document/view/4798598?publication=0
    13 Dec 2021,
  4. OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), Georgia End-of-Term Report 2016−2018, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Georgia_End-of-Term_Report_2016-2018_EN.pdf  
    30 Dec 2021
  5. Government Decree #110 on Approving the Statute and Composition of the Open Government Interagency Coordination Council, https://www.matsne.gov.ge/ka/document/view/4798598?publication=0
    30 Dec 2021
  6. IDFI, Georgia’s Chairmanship of OGP: Advancing the Global, Regional and National Open Government Agendahttps://idfi.ge/en/assuming_the_georgia_chairmanship_of_ogp_advancing_the_global_regional_and_national_open_government_agenda
    30 Dec 2021

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