Opinion

    An Empty Circle – Access to Public Information

    by | Mar 15, 2012

    Several days ago I had a meeting with two experienced lawyers. They and I are all rather concerned about freedom of expression in the country. During the discussion we concluded that those who don’t write, are not worried about anything at all; they have nothing to say and therefore, they don’t write, writes Ana Kapanadze, lawyer at Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association.

    I used to write up until now.

    I used to write applications, complaints, lawsuits… I used to write despite disappointment that journalists and I experience when it comes to access to public information.

    I used to think that raising and highlighting a new problem by means of writing was rather important. Following my discussion with two of my colleagues, I changed my mind.

    On the path that I chose, I started thinking about writing blogs and articles about all problems that I face in the process of media advocacy on a daily basis: lack of proper attention to applications; lack of responsibility of public information officers and the provision in the Georgian legislation stipulating that an authorized individual is “discretionally protected” by higher officials if s/he fails to provide access to information; that public agencies attend proceedings that they win; that during administrative litigation court upholds part of the claim which is recognized by an administrative agency… There are a number of other issues that I wanted to address in my writing simultaneously but I can’t remember them right now. I just remembered that there is one very important issue that I need to think about – I have to find the right way for disclosure of public information.

    A legal entity – one of the media unions – applied to the Chamber of Control of Georgia, requesting information about acts of audit held at the Public Works Department of Tbilisi. The Chamber of Control, which can be viewed as one of the most efficient administrative agencies in terms of providing access to public information, informed the applicant that the information requested is a secret. The chamber provided access to unclassified part of the document. As for another inquiry about the identity of an official who classified the information and the term of classification – a letter that redirected the applicant to Tbilisi City Hall was received. I would also like to note that the action of the Chamber of Control of Georgia is in compliance with the regulations of Article 80 of the General Administrative Code of Georgia, whereas the City Hall itself – the most reserved administrative agency of all – failed to response to the inquiries and ultimately, we had to file in court. The City Hall maintained that as the inquiries were addressed to the Chamber of Control of Georgia, providing answers was not its responsibility. With regard to the Chamber of Control, Tbilisi City Court ruled that protection of secret information is one of the basic principles of auditing…

    I believe that from the moment a lawyer becomes affiliated with media, s/he starts living two lives – one as a journalist and another as a lawyer. Although it means double responsibilities, it is rather interesting for me. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that I became actively involved in journalistic investigations and in addition to litigating, I decided that it was important to address once more a public information officer at Tbilisi City Hall with identical question. The City Hall requested us to specify information and then it responded that we could address the Chamber of Control of Georgia –located at 96 Ketevan Tsamebuli Str. – with our question.

    And the empty circle was tied

    The applicant and I already know what the response of the Chamber of Control will be. Tbilisi City Hall’s public information officer knows this better than us.

    I decided to write blogs and articles. Due to my tight schedule I may not be able to write them frequently, but I will. Now I should go back to the path that I chose a long time ago. I will start writing a letter to Tbilisi City Halls’ PIO. Applicant’s right to freedom of expression was grossly violated in this case. I think I’ll start my letter with the following words: “under para. 1 of Article 24 of the Law of Georgia on Chamber of Control, “…The audit document, certificate or/and report (opinion) of the CCG shall be submitted to the auditee. The audit document, certificate or/and report (opinion) may also be submitted to the superior organ or to the state, autonomous republic or local self-governing entities to which the auditee is accountable”. Therefore, I believe that information that I have solicited by a letter N11/7045-7 in 2012 is kept at Tbilisi City Hall. Furthermore, if resolving the issue raised in the application falls within the authority of another administrative agency, the administrative agency must refer the application with all enclosed materials within the term of 5 days. Applicant should be informed in written within 2 days that the application together with all enclosed materials has been referred to authorized administrative agency, citing corresponding substantiation.

    Therefore, your response has violated regulations contained by Article 80 of the General Administrative Code of Georgia…”



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