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New web portal for Government information

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, December 17
The Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) with the financial support of Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF) unveiled a new web page created in the frames of the Public Information Database project on December 16. The web page provides information on payroll funds and bonuses, budget and reserve funds, communication and fuel expenses of Governmental bodies and other public information.

Keti Khutsishvili, Executive Director of OSGF spoke of the success of the project in its initial phase. “This project is not oriented on scandals it is just aimed at raising awareness of the Government to be more transparent in their activities. The society should be free in obtaining information about the state institutions and make this issue the subject of wide discussions,” Khutsishvili told the media hoping that the new project would be of interest to public society, NGOs and the Government.

Creating the public online database, Giorgi Kldiashvili and Levan Avalishvili founders of IDFI addressed all the 19 Ministries, Government Office and the President’s Administration for the relevant information about their activities, but not all of them approved of the idea. The President’s Administration, Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), Ministry of Education and Science (MES), Ministry of Defense (MOD) and Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees (MRA) refused to give public information to IDFI, while the others shared only some information. It was quite interesting to analyze the amounts of special bonuses handed out at the Ministries which in many cases exceeded the salaries of the Ministers and their staff. Avalishvili spoke of an erroneous approach towards the expenses within the Governmental offices in general caused by the lack of the state mechanisms controlling the issue.

According to analyst Davit Narmania only particular information like military issues of special operations should be kept top secret by the Government while all other details about their budget sources and financial expenses should be totally accessible. Welcoming the presentation of the web portal, analyst Vakhtang Khmaladze spoke of the great difficulties in getting relevant public information to society. “The President’s Administration, for example, is a “black hole” - it is impossible to get any information from there if there is not a serious collapse. If you don’t know the title of President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili’s particular legislative acts you will hardly find any information about the necessary material. I can’t say whether the Administration is producing the civil registry of the data or not but an attempt to become familiar with such information ended in failure,” Khmaladze said hoping that the Parliament would consider the draft law on public accessibility supported by OSGF. This bill obliges officials to publish their civil registries on their web pages. The Ministry of Justice was named as the most successful executive body in developing electric technologies among the offices providing IDFI with comprehensive materials within the deadline. Bachana Shengelia Head of National Bureau of Enforcement of the Ministry expressed his support towards the project and promised to be actively engaged in the process in future. Emphasizing the necessity of public engagement in the process by sharing responsibilities, Ketevan Bebiashvili, Deputy Chair of Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), and Levan Alapishvili, Head of Planning and Analysis Department of the Chamber of Control of Georgia, have been actively working on these issues and expressed their readiness to cooperate with IDFI and provide all the interested sides with the relevant consultations.

Talking on the importance of the project, minority MP Dimitri Lortqipanidze emphasized the need for providing tax payers with the relevant information about state expenses. Presenting the audience with cases of violation from the state, using the example of the Security Council, Lortkipanidze wondered why the Presidential fund had granted the Council with GEL 20 million. “Such cases stress the necessity for creating a temporary Parliamentary or investigative commission. We should protect the rights of the society, ensure transparency of the state processes and summarize results,” Lortkipanidze told us.

Discouraging the authorities from exceeding the official duties, Manana Nachkebia from New Rights advised them to think of their moral values. “Today’s discussions have revealed the public interest towards the issue, but in my opinion the state officials seem to have the wrong idea concerning access on public information. We are not talking about bank accounts or financial sources for individuals, but the amounts of bonuses distributed by individuals should definitely be open to society. If our state legislation doesn’t consider such a trend I would doubt whether it is meeting the demands of a modern democracy,” Nachkebia said hoping that the project would manage to overcome all the obstacles and raise moral awareness among the Government members.

Representatives of media and NGOs were encouraged to actively cooperate with IDFI and provide the organization with all the truthful materials about the state institutions which will undoubtedly be added to the online database. Joining the media club of the project, journalists will have an opportunity to ask and share public information and attend regular meetings of the club.