Russian Compliance With Two New Laws Faulted

18 April 2011

 Russian agencies and courts are not abiding by two relatively recent transparency laws, according to a watchdog group’s annual report, which colorfully states, “One cannot stop a ripping rusty locomotive with a mere gesture.”

Summarizing the situation, Institute for Information Freedom Development Board Chairman Ivan Pavlov, wrote:

Unfortunately, as it is often the case in our country, coming into force did not mean that the laws have been actually obeyed. Governmental agencies pretended not to see the obvious provisions in the text of the laws, continuing to hide any information concerning their operations. Often, even the courts refused to protest the right of Russian citizens to get access to information even though it had been guaranteed by law. Moreover, there was little change in the situation with the judicial system itself which is still quite closed and non-transparent.

He outlines plans to monitor further two key laws that entered into legal force in 2010: Providing Access to Information on the Activities of Government Bodies and Bodies of Local Self-Government,” and “On Providing Access toInformation on the Activities of Courts in the Russian Federation.”

“At the moment Russia is still balancing on the brink: on the one hand, certain attempts are being made to enter the global community, which requires transparent policy executed by the administration, while on the other hand, there is still a strong desire to keep unrestricted power based on the accessibility of information,” according to Pavlov.  “As a result, one information access law is accompanied by a dozen of statutory acts with vague phrasing setting all kinds of restrictions to the declared principle that the information should be accessible.”

The reason the new acts are not working is not only the reluctance of the authorities,” he explained, but also because “few citizens are aware of this new powerful tool to control the authorities.”  He added, “Some of the progressive politicians also failed to see the information access legislation as an effective means to reform the state and to build a comfortable and friendly environment.”

The report is available on the IIFD website.

Evaluating Websites

The organization evaluated governmental agencies and provides a detailed evaluation, including performance rankings.

Among other things, the report notes: “Generally, governmental officials are willing to publish the general information concerning their regions and their functions, but when it comes to discussing some specific data like the ones about the information systems applied by this particular agency or concerning spending budget funds, the transparency and openness drop sharply.”

The report also states:

According to experts, the governmental bodies are unwilling to open the information concerning their activities to the wide public, especially so if such information is related to the most “painful” issues like budget over-spending, mismanagement of the state property etc. As a result, in the Internet we can find official websites built like “templates” in accordance there valid legislation rather than effective portals that are capable to provide citizens with the information they need. It should be noted, however, that there are also effective and user-friendly websites.

In looking at the performance of the courts, the organization cites research showing that “the average openness rating was estimated as 41.33%, which demonstrates that the courts were really unprepared to the new law.”

Overall, 2010 research indicated that the information openness rate of governmental bodies has increased considerably since 2009, reaching 39.49 percent, a nearly 10 percent rise.  However, the report states, “The principal reason for such information “explosion” (apart from the Information access law that came into force) is that the automatic expert monitoring system EXMO, designed by our IT experts, has been launched.”

The annual report also provides information on all IIFD activities.

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