The commitment to adopt the Law on Freedom of Information remains unfulfilled
The present publication concerns the Law on Freedom of Information, the adoption of which was supposed to fill the gaps in the legislation of public administration and increase the standards of accountability and transparency. The Government of Georgia was to submit the relevant draft law to the Parliament as early as 2015, although this commitment, which was taken in the framework of the Association Agreement with the European Union, remains to be fulfilled.
Systems of public administration of any country need to be regularly renewed and reformed so that the state will keep pace with the political, economic, social, or technological changes that are underway in the world. Georgia is no exception in this regard, and during decades the country has undergone several stages of public administration reform. In this process, the platforms of the country’s integration and cooperation with Europe have played an important role, in the framework of which the Georgian authorities have committed to implement several needed reforms. In this respect, a particular role is played by the Georgia-EU Association Agreement signed in 2014 and the association agendas and national annual action plans that derive from it. However, it should be noted that several commitments have been accumulated during the years which were taken by the authorities and are yet to be fulfilled.
The need to subject freedom of information to clear regulation has existed in Georgia for many years. Currently, the norms regulating public information are scattered across several articles of the General Administrative Code and their content also fails to meet contemporary challenges: the scope of application of the norms are vague, the concept of public information has not been sufficiently defined, there is no independent and effective mechanism for the supervision on violations, etc.
The Government committed itself to initiate a new law as early as 2014 when this commitment was reflected in the 2014 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Association Agreement and Association Agenda with the European Union. In the same year, the commitment was specified in the framework of the Open Government Partnership, when a government ordinance determined that the new draft Law on Freedom of Information would be submitted to the Parliament and the Government in the spring of 2015.
According to the government ordinance, the goal of adoption of the new law was “to improve the norms regulating freedom of information; to eliminate differences between the legislation and practice; to develop clear and concrete regulations”. The government ordinance determined the Ministry of Justice as the agency responsible for the fulfillment of the commitment.
In 2014, the Ministry of Justice started to work on the draft law. The process involved NGOs and Georgian and foreign experts. The working group created the first version of the document in the same year. Despite this, the draft law was not submitted in 2015.
The 2016 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Association Agreement and Association Agenda made the Ministry of Justice obliged to submit the draft law to the Government, although the Ministry also failed to submit it to the Government in 2016. The Report on the Fulfillment of the 2016 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Association Agenda said that “the draft Law on Freedom of Information is being improved following the recommendations of international experts and will be submitted to the Parliament upon completion”.
In December 2016, the Government issued an ordinance that renewed the Action Plan of the Open Government Partnership (2016-2017) and set December 2017 as a new deadline for the initiation of the draft law. The same deadline was also set in the 2017 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Association Agenda.
In May 2017, the Ministry of Justice familiarized the stakeholders, including NGOs, with the first draft of the law elaborated by the working group. This draft provided for the introduction of a new institution – the Commissioner for Freedom of Information, whose function was to supervise the protection of freedom of information across the country. In addition, the document brought into conformity with international good practice and specified terms and definitions, time frames for issuance of public information, rules for the maintenance of the register, and criteria for processing of information that had existed before. It can be argued that the draft law if adopted, would have considerably improved the legislative safeguards for freedom of information.
Even though the draft law was made public and the stakeholders provided their comments to the Ministry of Justice, the document was not submitted to the Government or the Parliament in December 2017.
After that, the 2018 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Association Agenda set a new deadline for the initiation of the draft law – July 2018. After the Ministry of Justice again failed to fulfill its obligation, the 2019 Action Plan determined the period from January to December 2019 as yet another time frame. The draft law was not initiated within this time frame either.
It is noteworthy that the obligation to initiate the draft Law on Freedom of Information was no longer included in the 2018-2019 Action Plan of the Open Government Partnership for Georgia and the National Action Plans for the Implementation of the Association Agenda for 2020 and 2021.
In addition to the enumerated agreements, the obligation to submit the draft Law on Freedom of Information to the Government is also determined by the 2019-2020 Action Plan for the Public Administration Reform and the 2019-2020 Action Plan for the Implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy. Both documents determined the 4th quarter of 2019 as the deadline for the submission of the draft law to the Government, while the Administration of the Government of Georgia was determined as the responsible agency instead of the Ministry of Justice.
The Law on Freedom of Information is aimed at creating an additional and necessary legal basis for the public control over state organizations and public resources using increased transparency, accountability, and publicity. Therefore, it is necessary that the Ministry of Justice and the Government, with the involvement of all the stakeholders, renew/start the process of initiation of the draft law, so that the commitments taken are fulfilled as soon as possible.
 Decree No. 1516 of the Government of Georgia on the Approval of the 2014 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Association Agreement and Association Agenda between Georgia and the European Union, September 3,2014, Annex, Row No. 193, https://bit.ly/3eb8NMb
 Decree No. 557 of the Government of Georgia on the Approval of the 2014-2015 Action Plan of the Open Government Partnership for Georgia, September 18, 2014,
 Access to Open Data in Georgia, IDFI, 2016, https://idfi.ge/en/access-to-opena-data-in-georgia
 The Report on the Fulfillment of the 2016 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Association Agreement and Association Agenda between Georgia and the European Union, Row No. 70.10 of the Table: https://bit.ly/2VTyHxX
 Decree No. 539 of the Government of Georgia on the Approval of the 2016-2017 Action Plan of the Open Government Partnership for Georgia, December 9, 2016, https://matsne.gov.ge/ka/document/view/3456448?publication=0
 For example, legal entities of private law (LLC, JSC), in which the state owns 50% or more of the stake, also came to be considered as public institutions and, accordingly, were made obliged to issue public information.
 Decree No. 274 of the Government of Georgia on the Approval of the 2019-2020 Action Plan for the Public Administration Reform, June 10, 2019,
 Decree No. 484 of the Government of Georgia on the Approval of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy of Georgia and the 2019-2020 Action Plan for the Implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy of Georgia, October 4, 2019, https://www.matsne.gov.ge/ka/document/download/4674422/0/ge/pdf
 Ibid. Annex 2, Activity No. 3.1.1.