Adjara Supreme Council Improves Public Information Disclosure Practice
The practice of public information disclosure by Adjara Supreme Council requires changes. Even though the Council is better at public information disclosure than effectively any other public institution operating in the autonomous republic, significant shortcomings remain and need to be addressed in an effective and timely manner in order to improve the quality of public governance and access to public information.
On 20 March 2014, Adjara Supreme Council adopted a resolution “On Approval of the Rule of Proactive Disclosure of Public Information and Standard of Electronic Request for Public Information”. Transparency International Georgia in 2018 published a study showing that the Supreme Council had the best practice of proactive public information disclosure compared to all other administrative bodies operating in Adjara.
Currently, the website of Adjara Supreme Council does not fully comply with the standards under the 2014 resolution. Specifically, according to Article 2, para. 3 of this resolution, “public information must be posted on the website in a way allowing for downloading, printing and copying this information without changing, damaging or losing it”. Detailed research conducted by our organization established that a significant portion of information published by the Council does not meet this requirement.
Most of the documents on the Supreme Council’s website are uploaded as scanned [not editable] files, which does not allow for searching within their texts or for their analytic processing. In addition, some of the uploaded documents are large, which hampers the operation of the website. Our organisation, within the framework of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) project, proposed recommendations for the 2020-2021 OGP Action Plan of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, one of which concerned precisely this issue.
This study examines in detail the standards of proactive information disclosure employed by the Council, explores best European examples which could prove important for the Council’s future work, and contains the recommendations developed by our organisation.
The following circumstances have been identified as a result of analyzing information published on the Adjara Supreme Council website:
Out of 49 documents related to the committees published on the website, 24 are problematic: scanned documents are uploaded which does not allow to search, copy and process them easily. However, it is important to note that, in terms of their content, the uploaded documents are sufficiently detailed and meet the standards of the 2014 resolution.
Open Government Council
Several documents related to the Open Government Council that are uploaded to the Supreme Council’s website do not meet the standards established by the 2014 resolution: scanned documents are uploaded which makes the process of working with them more difficult. Specifically, these documents are:
- Order on the composition of the Open Government Council of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara
- Order on the approval of the Statutes of the Open Government Council, Annex 1 – Statutes
- Protocol No 2
- Protocol No 1
It would be advisable for the Open Government Council session agendas for 15 June and 14 August 2020 to be accompanied by detailed descriptions of these sessions. The agenda for the Open Government Council session No 2 held in 2020 is not published on the website either.
Gender Equality Council
Even though the documents of the Gender Equality Council meet the 2014 regulation standards content-wise, the official documents listed below were not uploaded in a proper format:
- Order of the Supreme Council Chairperson on the Approval of the Composition of the Gender Equality Council
- Order of the Supreme Council Chairperson on the Appointment of Nino Chkhetia to the Post of the Chairperson of the Gender Equality Council
- Resolution of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara “On the Approval of the 2019-2020 Action Plan on Gender Equality Measures in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara”
Supreme Council of the Previous Convocation
The Supreme Council’s website does not contain documents of the 1996-2000 and 2000-2004 convocations of the Supreme Council of Adjara.
The legal acts adopted by the Supreme Council are featured on the Council’s website in detail. However, these decrees, rules of procedure, resolutions and laws are uploaded as scanned documents which, as mentioned above, complicates the process of working with documents. The same problem also exists with regard to draft legal acts of the Supreme Council.
As for the laws passed by the Supreme Council, only two of the 17 uploaded documents were problematic. They were uploaded as scanned documents as well:
- Law on the Structure, Authority and Rules for Activities of the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara
- Law on the Procedure for the Use of the Symbols of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara
Draft Law on Republican Budget
The following documents related to the Draft Law on the Republican Budget were uploaded as scans:
- Reworked version of the Draft Law on the 2019 Republican Budget – Order
- Draft Law of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara on the 2020 Republican Budget of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara – Annex 1
- Reworked version of the Draft Law on the 2020 Republican Budget – Order
In addition, in the file No 69 “Draft Law of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara On the 2019 Republican Budget of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara” (No 60, 31.10.2018), the documents entitled “Decree” and “Original” are empty.
The documents in the statistics section of the Supreme Council website concerning legal acts and information about the members of the Supreme Council who had missed the committee and plenary sessions of the Supreme Council without providing an admissible excuse, were uploaded in full compliance with the requirements.
As for gender statistics, out of 10 documents one was not uploaded fully. In addition, the information about document turnover and citizen reception is not in full compliance with the 2014 resolution standards since 10 out of 30 documents are not uploaded in a proper format. However, it is important to note that the information published on the statistics page is reflected in detail in the uploaded documents.
Information on Financial and Material Resources
The information concerning financial resources and material assets provided on the website of the Supreme Council does not meet the standards established by the 2014 resolution. Specifically, 166 out of 320 documents are published as scanned documents which does not allow searching, copying or processing them easily; sometimes, when these documents are copied, the Georgian script changes to Latin.
Information about the remuneration, salary supplements and bonuses of Council members and staffers is provided in quarterly amounts in 29 documents. All of them were uploaded in an incorrect format. In addition, the documents do not provide a detailed staff list identifying employees, their salaries, bonuses and salary supplements by month.
The business trip expenses of the Council members and staff are provided in 68 documents which meet the standards of the 2014 resolution in terms of their content. Nevertheless, 29 documents are problematic.
Of the 29 documents which contain information about telephone communication expenses, 11 were uploaded as scanned documents. At the same time, all the documents provide a sum of all expenses for local and international calls, without disaggregating between local and international calls.
There is a total of 17 documents posted on the website that concern vehicles owned by the Supreme Council. All contain a detailed list of vehicles. However, the format of nine documents does not comply with the standards established by the 2014 resolution.
As for the information about maintenance expenses for the vehicles owned by the Supreme Council, 22 out of 30 documents are problematic.
All documents which concern fuel costs for the vehicles owned by the Supreme Council (with the exception of the 2020 data) are problematic: files were uploaded in the format of scans, which does not allow to easily search, copy or process them or, when these documents are copied, the Georgian script changes to Latin. The information contained in these documents, however, is complete.
There are 24 uploaded documents concerning public procurements carried out by the Supreme Council under the annual public procurement plan. Only two have problems with their format (Document 1 and Document 2). At the same time, with regard to the documents concerning annual procurement plan and the budget approved by the Supreme Council, which comply with the standards of the 2014 resolution content-wise, only two are problematic (Document 1 and Document 2) – they were uploaded as scanned documents.
It is noteworthy that the published information about immoveable property owned by the Supreme Council and remuneration of Council members is in full compliance with the standards established by the 2014 resolution.
The Archive contains resolutions, decrees and the legislation from 2004 to 2018. The annual documents are well organised into files by year. These files are easy to download, although many documents in the Archive were also uploaded as scanned versions. It is impossible to copy text from these documents, or text is copied as characters other than letters. Finding a necessary document quickly is also difficult.
Information About Staff
The following documents feature in full in the Staff section of the Supreme Council website:
- Information about the Supreme Council’s Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff and heads of departments
- Information about the number of staff with employment contracts
- E-mails and telephone numbers of representatives of the Supreme Council members elected from single-seat districts
- Work e-mails and work telephone numbers of members of the Supreme Council
- Information about a simplified public competition to fill in a photographer’s vacancy, March 2019. The results of the 1st stage and the results of the interview stage
Five of the published documents are not accessible and a large part of the remaining documents does not comply with the standards of the 2014 resolution.
Media and Public
It is a welcome development that the Supreme Council has considered the recommendation by the Open Government Council’s advisory council, prepared and adopted the procedure for media accreditation which would considerably facilitate access by journalists and other media representatives to the Supreme Council building.
As for the information about internship programmes, the order concerning a competition for internship at the Supreme Council as well as the documents about the rules of internship and the internship commission were uploaded in the format of scanned documents. This does not allow to easily search, copy or process them.
Successful examples of access to public information in Europe
The right to access to public information is one of the foundations of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The more accessible information is to citizens, the more democratic, transparent and participatory are the governing bodies. OGP pays a great deal of attention to promoting and raising awareness about this right in its member states.
In this study, we examine the examples of two European states. The first is Finland whose autonomous region of the Åland Islands consists of 16 municipalities. The government of Åland has the right to make decisions in the areas of education, health, environmental protection, infrastructure and self-government. The local Parliament is the supreme legislative body which is composed of 30 members elected for a four-year term, and which exercises oversight of the Åland Government.
The second is Estonia which represents an example of democratic, transparent and innovative governance. After the 2017 administrative reform, the country was divided into 79 local governments. Each one of them is led by municipal councils elected by direct ballot. Despite this system of local governments, public information for all regions in Estonia is published on a single website whose specific features are discussed below.
Finland is among the leaders in terms of access to public information. According to the RTI (Right to Information) rating, it ranks 31st in the world and eighth in Europe. This result was conditioned by Finland’s determination to improve and simplify ordinary citizens’ access to and full understanding of public information every year.
Currently, Finland is divided into six regional state administrative agencies each of which is based on the self-government principle. In our study, we focused on the Åland Islands which, similarly to Adjara, is an autonomous region. The Åland Islands share the open government principles and Finland’s OGP Action Plans. As early as in 2013, it was decided to communicate public information in the language understood by citizens, so that every interested person, regardless of their level of education, would be able to find, understand and process information appropriately. Numerous reforms have been implemented since 2013 to achieve this goal:
In addition to initiatives, it is important to study the operation of the Åland Parliament’s website as it would enable us to make useful changes to the website of the Adjara Supreme Council’s website. In the Åland region, one can find public information by simply clicking on a search button. It is possible:
- To find documents by year and type (expense reports, legal acts, citizens’ initiatives and so on);
- To filter public information by topic (education, economics, finances, infrastructure and so on);
- To see full recordings of meetings at the Åland Parliament, both by means of YouTube (videos) and Spotify (podcasts) playlists as well as read the transcripts.
On the website, we can find MPs by their political parties and learn about their parliamentary activities in detail. By clicking an MPs’ photos, we can find out what issue they talked about and to what extent, the draft laws that they voted for and what speeches they made in the Parliament. For example, if we look at the profile of Åland MP Jessy Eckerman, we will learn that, in her parliamentary work, she has paid particular attention to healthcare, animal protection, and landscape management (50%) issues and attended all sessions of the Parliament (100%). Such information makes the work of the legislative body more transparent and increases public trust in both the institution and the officials working there.
Estonia is a successful example of effective access to public information. According to the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) platform, Estonia scores 10 out of 10 in accessibility of public information. In addition to the fact that access to official information is guaranteed by the Constitution, a Public Information Act has been in force in Estonia since 2001.
Access to the internet is considered a priority in Estonia. The strategic plan aims to simplify access to information by means of official websites and portals. Currently, all public information and services in Estonian municipalities is available from a single website.
Information from all Estonian ministries and public agencies is published there. All pieces of information generated by the government staff are public except for those containing personal data. Databases of local governments are linked into this website too. For example, if we are interested in public information from the local government of Harku, we can easily obtain it in HTML format. The portal contains detailed descriptions of local government sessions, letters addressed to the government, published protocols, legal acts and agreements.
All municipalities, political parties and state institutions must have websites where they must post information envisaged by the Constitution and the Public Information Act. In addition, there is an Estonian open data portal which specifically contains public information. Any citizen can request information from these platforms without registering, which reduces the number of public information requests and, correspondingly, the workload of public servants. Below you will find the standards which are met by the described website and the portal.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Transparency International Georgia welcomes the Supreme Council’s decision to proactively publish public information in full on its website. This facilitates strengthening the administrative body’s accountability and an increase in the level of its transparency. Interested persons easily obtain information and exercise control over the representative body. A large portion of the documents posted on the website of the Adjara Supreme Council are uploaded as scanned documents, which makes searching within their texts and analysing them more difficult and, sometimes, impossible. In addition, the scanned documents are large, which hampers the operation of the website.
Transparency International Georgia recommends the following:
- Uploading documents to the website in an open and easy-to-process format with the aim of simplifying their subsequent use and facilitating citizens’ participation;
- Increasing the list of [the types of] public information, and disaggregating both new and already published information with the aim of increasing the level of transparency;
- Uploading the documents which, according to this study, are not accessible or empty.
Based on the examples of Finland and Estonia, the Supreme Council could also work in the following directions:
- Retraining public servants based on open government principles and raise public awareness about requesting public information;
- Adapting the documents uploaded to the website for the needs of persons with visual impairment;
- Publishing full recordings of sessions as well as more detailed descriptions of Council members’ activities.
 Within the framework of the OGP 2020-2021 Action Plan, in cooperation with the Open Government Council’s advisory council, the Supreme Council Staff prepared these rules, and the Council Chairperson signed the order on putting these rules into effect on 6 April.
 In Estonia, citizens requesting public information are freed from paying for document copies for various reasons: if a citizen is requesting information for research purposes, or to exercise a constitutional right; citizens who do not have a sufficiently high income are also freed from paying the fees. In addition, citizens do not need to pay if the information they requested is less than 21 pages long. In other cases, a body issuing information is authorised to charge for it; https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/ee/Riigikogu/act/529032019012/consolide