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Access to public information may be curtailed by new law

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, May 17
Information regarding the income of government officials might be closed to the public, according to a warning from a group of NGOs. They cite a new draft law prepared by the Ministry of Justice.

Based on article 44 of the Common Administration Law, information concerning government officials is not secret and is open to all interested persons. As representatives of the NGOs claim, the administration plans to remove that article from the law.

“After that, information will be unavailable and government institutions will not be obliged to deliver personal information on officials or those who are represented in government posts,” Levan Avalishvili, a lawyer from the Georgian Development Research Institute (GDRI), said.

As Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) representative Natia Kapanadze told The Messenger, "The threat is very serious”. If the law is adopted, no one will be able to demand information on government workers' incomes, bonuses, mission expenses, health, etc.

"The issue of what property officials and candidates for some leading posts possess is always interesting to the public," she said. But "the public will be prevented from observing financial and personal information of officials, which directly opposes the principle of transparency".

Kapanadze also noted that interested parties, including GYLA, have always had a problem getting such information on politicians. "Government institutions have always avoided delivering such information and created problems; now, if the changes are adopted, just imagine what might happen?”

In response, Deputy Minister of Justice Dimitri Dzagnidze said that the draft suggests only technical changes and such problems will not occur. "Some norms from the Common Administrative Code will be moved to the Law on Protection of Personal Data, thus we will avoid solving the same problem with two different legal acts. As for the availability of information, the third chapter of the Common Administrative Law ensures the openness of information; in particular, article 28, which says that information is open to the public, except as provided by law".

GDRI's Avalishvili does not believe that Dzagnidze's explanation is adequate. "Reservation, which existed in the Common Administrative Law in article 44 and enabled receipt of personal information on officials without the officials' permission, is being abolished, which means that the norm will be automatically abolished".

Parliamentary minority party the Christian Democrats have announced that the administration has long intended to make this change, as they have long been uncomfortable with public disclosure of their salaries.

“It has always been interesting the salaries, bonuses, mission [expenses] officials receive... Some government officials from the [administration] received three times more [income] from different sources,” party representative Levan Vepkhvadze noted.