How to request public information in Georgia: at least GEL 3 million spent on New Year's concerts
The blog is updated on May 16 2011. we received the answer to our FOI request, sent on April 7 2011, requesting information about how much money from the President’s reserve fund was used to pay for the New Year concert in Mestia. According to the President’s administration, 187,333 GEL were allocated to this event.This year’s New Year’s celebrations were grand and flashy affairs in Georgia. The government organized concerts on the 31st of December in Tbilisi and Batumi as well as a concert in Mestia, which was held on the 8th of January.
There have been lots of rumors and speculations about the costs of these government-funded events, so we wanted to get a better picture of how much taxpayer money was actually spent on the concerts. And we also decided use this question for a short video that shows how to request public information in Georgia:
And that's what we did. We sent freedom of information requests to the mayor’s offices of Tbilisi and Batumi, the city council of Mestia, and the administration of the president. We asked these four institutions the following questions:
- How much money was spent on organizing New Year’s events?
- Who was the organizer of the events?
- What criteria were used when choosing the organizer?
All four departments failed to respond to our freedom of information requests within the 10-day deadline defined by the Administrative Code. Batumi city hall provided us with a complete response, stating that “for organizing the New Year’s arrangements, GEL 425,000 were allocated from the (city's) 2010 budget". From the President’s administration, we received a response that GEL 2,701,675 were spent on the Batumi concert. Thus, in total, GEL 3,126,675 of public funding was used for the celebrations in Batumi. According to Batumi city hall, the concerts were organized by the city administration.
Tbilisi city hall provided us with an incomplete response, stating only that “GEL 115,001 were spent to organize the New Year’s concert in Freedom Square on the 31st of December.” Our questions regarding the organizer and its selection criteria were not answered.
From Mestia, we received an official response stating that the concert there was not financed by the local municipality but that funding was provided by Tbilisi city hall. We have sent another letter to Tbilisi hall about this spending and will update this blog as we receive a response. So far, the officially confirmed accumulated public spending on New Year's concerts is GEL 3,241,676. On the positive side, all institutions we asked for the release of public information finally provided us with at least some of the requested data. However, it took almost a month to receive the public information we were interested in. This experience once again underlines the difficulties in receiving answers to FOI requests in Georgia. FOI request - Batumi City Hall FOI request - Presidents Administration FOI request - MIA Response - Batumi City Hall Response - President's administration Response - Tbilisi City Hall Response - Mestia President's Administration response about Mestia