Statistical information in Georgia no longer free of charge
GeoStat, the Georgian Government’s agency that is in charge of statistical information, has started to charge for many of the useful data it collects from January 1, 2011 on. The Board of the National Statistics Office approved the collection of fees for statistic data that is beyond what it defines as its core activity on November 22, 2010. GeoStat continues to provide a number of key statistics for free, for example some data on the Georgian population, the unemployment rate, the country’s gross domestic product, inflation, trade and other economic indicators. The data on Georgian’ businesses aggregate turnover is free. Looking at broad sectors, like tourism or construction, data on companies’ aggregate turnover in these sectors is also freely available -- but only of limited use. For more specific information,, one has to pay. For example, to receive the number of hotel beds in Georgia from 2007, 2008 and 2009 costs GEL 15 (including VAT). Data on the numbers of visitors in hotels, sorted by the purpose of arrival in these years, will also cost money, more precisely GEL 30. The number of cellular phone subscribers in those years will set you back GEL 60. Another example: ordering data on the number and area of permissions granted for construction by type in 2007-2010 amounts to GEL 40. GeoStat uses taxpayer’s money (as well as funding provided by international donors) to collect and manage data that is supposed to be public. With the new fees in place, most Georgian students, academics, journalists and civil society activists are no longer able to access relevant statistical data. We are concerned that the new pay-wall will have a negative impact on the quality of policy research and current affairs reporting -- two areas that donors are currently trying to build strengthen and support. Without proper data, it becomes even harder for journalists and civil society to hold decision makers accountable for their promises and actions. Even if a researchers has funds available, buying data is a fairly difficult process. To receive information that is for sale only, a client has to call or e-mail Geostat and request selected data sets. Once Geostat responds and provides the total amount of the order, this sum has to be transferred to GeoStat’s bank account – there is not possibility to pay directly on the site. When Geostat receives a confirmation of the transaction, the requested data is emailed to the customer. In 2010, GeoStat became a legally independent entity of public law, which improved the organization’s political independence. However, GeoStat is suffering from a lack of funding and is struggling to find money to cover its costs. The government encourages state agencies like GeoStat to finance a significant share of their operational costs by providing paid services. In a June 2010 article in investor.ge, Zaza Chelidze, said he needed about GEL 4.7 million per year to fund the agency’s operation. GeoStat’s funding from the state budget dropped from GEL 4.85 in 2010 to 4.2 million in 2011 – funding allocated for staff salaries decreased from GEL 3.48 million in 2010 to GEL 2 million this year. In the beginning of January, the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development also privatized GeoStat’s office building, which was sold for USD 4.2 million. GeoStat had to move offices. Chelidze was quoted by GBC on February 28, saying that his organization did not have high expectations (regarding the income from data sales) and that it was too early to tell if such paid services would fully cover GeoStat’s operating costs. We ask GeoStat to evaluate the fee-based model and, if it turns out that income from fees is not substantial, to make all its data available for free online and charge only for variable costs (e.g. print-outs and copies, or additional services and analysis provided by GeoStat’s experts).