Six Questions: Georgia shouldn’t rest on its laurels - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

Six Questions: Georgia shouldn’t rest on its laurels

20 October, 2011
A recent report from the Centre for Law and Democracy and other international organizations called “Ask Your Government! The 6 Question Campaign” ranks Georgia second in the world for support of the right to information in practice. In fact, despite Georgia’s high rank, there is substantial room for improvement in the government’s responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Because researchers from TI Georgia contributed to the report, we want to provide some context for the information it contains, and some clarification regarding the reporting of the research results in the Georgian media.

First, we want to point out that some of the reporting regarding this report is simply false. Imedi’s news broadcast stated that the Ask Your Government! report says that Georgia is “the leading country in fighting corruption.” The report says no such thing.

Turning to the report itself, it is clear that Georgia’s second-place ranking in this list stems largely from the fact that most other countries performed quite poorly; simply by providing a legally compliant response to every request, Georgia guaranteed itself a place in the top 15 countries. The lamentably low level of support for the right to information in other countries does not mean that Georgia performs well in an absolute sense. We believe that the practice of responding to FOI requests in Georgia can be significantly improved.

The report’s results show that Georgian governmental bodies provided complete responses to FOI requests in 4 out of 6 cases and incomplete responses in the other 2. There were three topics that were covered by the FOI requests: maternal health care, foreign aid, and the environment. The report also notes that the average time it took agencies to respond to requests was 11 days, and that all responses were legally compliant. Georgian governmental bodies largely adhered to Georgian law and international best practice in these six cases.

However, we believe that the usefulness of the Ask Your Government! ranking is hampered by the small number of requests that were sent. Several more recent (the research for the Ask Your Government! report was conducted in 2009, despite the 2011 publication date) and more thorough studies show starkly different results from the Ask Your Government! report.

First, there is research published by the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) earlier this year. IDFI sent 539 requests to a broad selection of Georgian government agencies. Of the requests sent by IDFI, only about 52% received any response at all; the other 48% were ignored. In addition, only 33% of the requests received a complete response. This is not nearly as responsive as the Ask Your Government! results might indicate Georgia is.

We performed our own smaller FOI tests in 2010 as part of our National Integrity System Assessment, and received satisfactory (i.e.legally compliant) answers in 78.8% of cases (out of 52 requests total). This is a higher rate of response than IDFI received, but as noted earlier, the highest ranking for a country with only 5 compliant answers in the Ask Your Government! study was sixteenth.

In a separate test of FOI responsiveness, our staff made phone calls as private citizens to all ministries and Tbilisi City Hall, and asked governmental employees for information about FOI procedures. The staff at several ministries gave incorrect information regarding proper procedures, indicating a need for improved training of government employees on this issue.

These three more thorough assessments indicate that the Ask Your Government! results do not adequately represent the reality of the state of the right to information in Georgia.

Lastly, we are currently suing the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development over that ministry’s non-compliance with Georgia’s Freedom of Information laws, and we won a similar suit against the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office in late 2010 (but nonetheless have not yet received the information we sought in that suit).
Author: Transparency International Georgia