Tbilisi City Hall Makes Some Public Information Secret
Even resorting to a lawsuit brought no results for Transparency International Georgia in our year-long effort to obtain public information from Tbilisi City Hall on its expenditures for its office renovation. As a result, a pilot program, which was aimed at providing information to the public about the use of resources by Tbilisi City Hall, had to be canceled. The project was financed by UGPN and Oxfam Novib. On December 12, 2009 we sent an initial letter to Tbilisi City Hall requesting that they provide us, according to the terms of Georgia's Freedom of Information law, with copies of documents detailing expenditures of the Tbilisi City Hall renovation, including rehabilitation of the interior and exterior, and expenditures on services provided by maintenance crews. Our efforts to obtain the above-mentioned information were ultimately fruitless. The reasons stated by Tbilisi City Hall for not providing the information were different each time we contacted them. During one telephone call, Otar Tatalashvili, who is in charge of providing public information at Tbilisi City Hall, explained to us that processing such a large amount of information was really difficult, but then said that the documents were nonetheless ready and that he would send them the next day. This turned out to be a false promise. On April 6, 2010, five months after our initial request for information, Tbilisi City Hall responded to our numerous letters and phone calls with a one-page letter, which indicated that the total amount of money spent on Tbilisi City Hall reconstruction was GEL 9,857,184. The letter was called a “comprehensive” answer. We appealed this decision following administrative procedures to the Mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, but were again unsuccessful. After that, Transparency International Georgia appealed to Tbilisi City Court and requested that the court order Tbilisi City Hall to grant us access to the detailed expenditure log on Tbilisi City Hall renovation. The defense given by representatives of Tbilisi City Hall was that they were not able to provide full information and a detailed expenditure log of renovation activities because they had not yet entered the appropriate documents into a database that would allow them to process it to make it public. In other words, they claimed that although the renovation project was then complete, they themselves did not actually know exactly how the nearly GEL 10 million had been spent. The representative of the City Hall said that they would provide this information only after it had been processed and registered in an appropriate database. The judge of the Board of Administrative Affairs of Tbilisi City Court upheld our complaint, and ordered Tbilisi City Hall to provide the requested information—but only after it is registered in a database. In practice, this is an empty victory, because the renovation of the Tbilisi City Hall building ended in 2008 and Tbilisi City Hall still has not entered documents pertaining to the renovation into a database.