Proactive publication of information as a common standard in Georgia
The Georgian government agencies have not been very proactive in releasing relevant public information about their decisions and activities. Whenever a citizen, a journalist or a researcher wanted this information, one had to send a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the agency, which is not always easy, and then wait for a mailed letter to come back (under the current Georgian legislation, a public agency is supposed to provide a response to the FOI request within 10 working days after receiving this request but in practice this process can take longer than that). Last year, the government introduced http://data.gov.ge, which includes a section for electronic submission of FOI requests but this section is not up and running yet. Furter, there were frequent instances when FOI requests were simply ignored or contained information that was inadequate, vague or incomprehensive.
However, this is likely to change with the entry into force, on 1 September, 2013, of the new Government Decree on Electronic Request and Proactive Publication of Public Information. This Decree, which is based on the recommendations from a group of civil society organizations, including Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) and Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), obliges all agencies under the supervision of the Executive to release information on their activities electronically, free of charge and in easy-to-use, open forms.
There are seven different categories of information that the Georgian public agencies have to disclose by using the standard described above:
General information on the public agency – its structure, functions, founding documents, annual reports, strategies, action plans, as well as biographies and contact details of the leadership and the staff;
FOI page – names and contact details of FOI officers, relevant regulations, procedures and forms of appeal, FOI reports and statistics;
Employment – vacancy announcements, rules of competition, results of the competition and procedures for appealing these results, number and categories of the employed staff (government agencies are already supposed to publish their vacancies on http://hr.gov.ge but often don’t comply);
Procurement and privatization – procurement plans, information on the procured object, means of procurement and the suppliers, as well as the costs of the contract (procurement plans and tenders have been accessible on https://tenders.procurement.gov.ge/, we repackage the data on Tendermonitor.ge); information on the privatization of the state property and advertising expenditures;
Financing – enacted budgets, budget implementation reports, staff remuneration, bonuses and allowances, list of all properties owned, service expenditures, donor grants and credits;
Legal acts – laws and official documents pertaining to the activities of the public agency (these are already online on the government’s law database https://matsne.gov.ge/);
Other – information on the services, taxes, fees and other revenues of the public agency
The deadline for complying with this requirement is 31 December 2013. However, as it is mandated by a government decree, not by a law as NGOs had recommended, it will only apply to the State Chanellery, ministries and their sub-agencies and legal entities of public law that operate under government supervision.
Other branches of government – Parliament, the judiciary, elected local bodies – and the independent regulators (Georgian National Communication Commission and the Georgian National Energy and Water Supply Regulatory Commission) do not have to comply but can choose to do so voluntarily.
TI Georgia commends the decision of the government to take on the civil society recommendations to enforce the rules of proactive disclosure of public information. This list of information presented here was developed as a result of a series of consultations between relevant civil society organizations with the aim to increase transparency and accountability of the Georgian public sector.
As an active participant of this consultation process, TI Georgia believes that proactive publication of the listed information in open data format, in line with guidelines we have suggested so that users could easily use and process the published data, should be adopted as a common standard not only within the Executive but also across all other different branches of the government. Unfortunately, a number of key government agencies insisted that they want to continue publishing data in PDF and formats that are really difficult to use.
We will closely monitor how this new Decree will be implemented in practice and provide further recommendations when need be.