Public Information Law like a Bolt from the Blue for the Authorities
A roundtable was held on 9 June by the Ukrainian Independent Political Research Centre regarding legislative regulation on access to public information. It came one month exactly since the new Law came into effect and summarized the experience and problems identified in the first month.
During the roundtable a draft Law was presented On Amendments to Ukrainian Laws aimed at bringing them into line with the Laws on Access to Public Information and On Information, as well as draft Instructions on Documents for Information Requests to the Authorities.
The Head of the Ukrainian Independent Political Research Centre, Maxim Latsyba, pointed out that the authorities and bodies of local self-government cannot fully implement the new Law since the methodological backup needed has not been provided. Nor have a number of pieces of subordinate legislation been passed which should set out clear procedure for working with information requests, posting information on official websites, keeping registers of public information, as well as on use of the stamp restricting access “For Official Use Only”. Even trivial issues like maximum cost for copying or printing have not been resolved. He stresses that the lack of clarity is seriously hampering the work both of the authorities, and of the public.
Vasyl Hatsko, Head of the NGO Democratic Alliance said that it was as though the Public Information Act had come as a bolt from the blue. In the first month, up to a thousand information requests had been submitted, mainly about general plans of cities; calculations for housing and communal services as well as local budgets. It had turned out that the right of the public to receive such information was limited or simply ignored. The documents requested had only been received in a third of the cases (36.5%) and there had been no response to 38.9% of the requests. The requests for information about the budget and communal tariffs had received more or less substantive responses, but with the general plans the situation had been more difficult. Refusals to provide these were explained as linked with them being “For Official Use Only”.
Vasyl Hatsko also pointed out the low quality of information requests and responses to them, together with infringements of time limits. The information should now be provided within 5 working days from receipt of the request, with this lowered to 48 hours where the question pertains to life or health. He said that the main reason for all the various infringements was that the authorities had not been ready when the Law came into force. He called on the public to not confine themselves to monitoring campaigns but to actively work to ensure that their rights were observed.
Oleksandr Chernenko, Head of the Board of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] spoke of the monitoring which CVU activists had carried out from 10 to 17 May. This had covered 71 institutions in 15 regions with the average mark for readiness being around 2.5 out of 5. He added that although some progress had been seen in the central and regional authorities, the situation remained bad in State higher educational institutes and organizations.
Dmytro Kotlyar, an independent media lawyer and Hanna Krasnostup, lawyer for the State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting presented the above-mentioned Draft Law on amendments needed to bring laws into line with the new information legislation. They said that most legislative acts need amendments with amendments having been made to only a small number.
Crucial amendments include:
– abolition of the categories of the right to ownership of information, with the treatment of information as property being flawed.;
– responsibility for infringements of legislation on information, as well as liability being waived for divulgence of information on restricted access where this was in the public interest.
They stress the need to make considerable amendments to the Criminal Code and State Statistics Law to bring these into line with the new laws. However this is awaiting agreement from the Ministry of Justice with the Ministry of Finance.
Roman Grigorenko, lawyer from the Institute for Mass Information also presented a draft Instructions on Documents for Information Requests to the Authorities which should help civil servants correctly define a request for information, process it and organize the response.
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