TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgia is doing away with a law which guaranteed the public access to information about public officials.

This means that details about the income, expenses and social benefits of public persons will remain unknown to the public.

Openness in this area was regulated by the Administrative Code, where there was a separate article, saying that the personal data of officials and candidates nominated for official positions are public.

According to a bill prepared by the Ministry of Justice, this article will be removed. The reason is explained that the collection, storage and release of personal information is regulated by a separate law adopted in late 2011, and that it is unnecessary to have the same right written into two different laws.

But the problem is that the section which guaranteed that information about public persons should be public, will not be placed somewhere else in the legislation, but just disappear. This means that there won’t be legal grounds for requesting such information, and public bodies will be entitled to reject requests for such information.

Dimitry Dzagnidze, Deputy Justice Minister, tells DF Watch that the bill only contains technical amendments and such problems won’t be created at all.

“This bill doesn’t apply issues related to freedom of information and as I said these are only technical changes and by this terminology will comply.”

Levan Avalishvili, lawyer and representative of organization Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) says that this explanation is not adequate.

“The new law about personal data doesn’t regulate this issue. The new law doesn’t differentiate between a legal person and an official person. Accordingly, if we could apply under this section before to request any information about authorities, now we will no longer have such a right, which in our opinion is step back in regards to publicity.”

He explains that this article applied to any information related to a public person.

“This is not only salaries. For example, a separate law regulates expenses of an assignment. Or for example, the issue about what kind of car the minister travels in. Under the new rule, we won’t be able to obtain such information, because when you ask, they will say that it is his personal information and will refuse. This is only about information related to public persons,” Levan Avalishvili says, adding that his organization together with Transparency International Georgia and Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association are preparing a briefing paper which will soon be published.

The parliamentary faction the Christian Democrats are critical towards these amendments. MP Levan Vepkhvadze says ‘it seems the government finally scored an own goal.’ For the last three years he says, the government permanently was trying to restrict information about officials, but parliament never agreed on this initiative before.

“I’m interested in why the ruling majority suddenly changes position. Parliament should control the government, because the people control the parliament. If parliament refuses this control, this is very bad,” Vepkhvadze adds.

The majority faction in parliament, in other words the National Movement party, turned down DF Watch’s request to comment on this issue.