Reports Faults Georgia on FOI Responses, Websites

4 March 2011

The Georgian freedom of information law needs reform to prevent public officials from hiding information, according to one of two new reports by the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI).

In another report, the institute strongly criticizes the websites of public institutions.  The conclusions in Electronic Transparency in Georgia were based on audits of government websites.

For the report Access to Public Information in Georgia, the institute sent out more than 500 requests for information to government agencies, eventually concluding that the responsiveness was “very low.”

More than 100 persons attended recent presentation of the reports, which also received widespread media coverage.

Agencies Deny Access

During a five-month period in 2010, the institute sent 539 applications to state agencies requesting public information. Only 251 applications received a reply.

Full information was provided by state agencies only to 178 questions. Information was incompletely provided in reply to 73 applications. The remaining 261 questions have been left unanswered until now. Written refusals were provided in only 27 cases.

Among other things, the institute asked for various kinds of budget data, for salary figures, and for the amounts spent on vehicles and telephones.

Besides identifying chronic bureaucractic unresponsiveness, the study found that agencies kept information secret “groundlessly.”

The report suggested that gaps and incomplete definition of legal norms in the legislation are mainly to blame for the observed weaknesses.

The report noted particularly a tendency to use personal privacy as an excuse not to disclose salary and bonus information.

Website Quality Judged Poor

In its second annual report on public websites, IDFI concluded “that the rate of transparency of the public Internet space does not really meet the basic interests and demands of the society.”

Financial data and information about state projects and programs is not provided, or is  incomplete and/or superficial, the report said. “Unfortunately, the Public Authorities fail to actively use the Internet as an effective tool of communication with citizens, the media or the business,” according to the institute.

The majority of agencies “still fail to consider their websites as an effective means of disseminating information regarding their own activities in a pro-active manner, rendering themselves transparent and accountable and making themselves universally accessible platforms of public information to be used by the citizens and the organizations,” the study found.

The report made the distinction that the introduction of online services “does not yet mean that the principles of e-Transparency have already been introduced.”

Suggesting standards, the institute wrote:

In order for the official websites of the Public Authorities to comply with high quality standards, they should meet the following four criteria:

• Universally acknowledged technical standards of the information content of websites, including the “open data” technical features;

• Ability to meet legal requirements of natural and legal persons through the provision of public information on the websites;

• Compliance of the website contents with the norms of legislation ensuring access to the public information describing the activities of the Public Authorities;

• Standard approach of the State Authorities towards the contents and the structure of the information provided on the official websites.

Unfortunately, the monitoring identified shortcomings for all the four criteria on all the websites that were the subject to research.

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