Loading

VerdictFactCheck concludes that Ana Dolidze’s statement is TRUE.

Resume:

The Constitution of Georgia is the foremost guarantee of any Georgian citizen to have access to public information. In accordance with Section 1 of Article 41 of the Constitution:  “Every citizen of Georgia has the right of access to information as determined by the law, as well as to official documents about him/her stored in state institutions, unless they contain state, professional, or commercial secrets.” The Administrative Code of Georgia governs the rule for requesting and receiving public information and the Code mandates that a public institution is obliged to issue public information.

On 15-16 February 2018, the BusinessPressNews media outlet (Bpn.ge is one of the agencies of PalitraMedia holding) requested public information from the National Agency of Public Registry, State Services Development Agency and the National Bureau of Enforcement, all of them subordinate to the Ministry of Justice’s bodies. However, seven months have passed since submitting the request and Bpn.ge was not able to get the information it requested. As stated by the media outlet, it tried to determine the reason for the aforementioned agencies not giving respective information in the time period as prescribed by the law. On 2 October 2018, the PR Service of the Ministry of Justice told BPN that in compliance with the decree of the Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani, they do not have cooperation with BPN from 2015 and, therefore, would not give the requested information.

Apart from BPN, other organisations, including FactCheck,

have encountered problems multiple times when trying to receive public information from the Ministry of Justice and its subordinate bodies. In 2016 whilst conducting its research, the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information did not receive a single reply to the 346 letters it sent requesting public information. The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) has also encountered the same problem.

Of note is that the law does not grant any authority to any single public institution and/or official to restrict issuing public information because of his personal attitude.

Analysis High Council of Justice non-judge member, Ana Dolidze, commented on the issue of the Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani, boycotting media outlets belonging to PalitraMedia holding and stated:

“Tea Tsulukiani has been noted multiple times for withholding public information and her disrespect shown towards the law is systematic for a long period of time already.”

FactCheck

took interest in the accuracy of the statement.

On 15-16 February 2018, BusinessPressNews media outlet (Bpn.ge is one of the agencies of PalitraMedia holding) requested public information from the National Agency of Public Registry, State Services Development Agency and the National Bureau of Enforcement, all of them subordinate to the Ministry of Justice’s bodies. However, seven months have passed since submitting the request and Bpn.ge was not able to get the information it requested. As stated by the media outlet, it tried to determine the reason for the aforementioned agencies not giving respective information in the time period as prescribed by the law. On 2 October 2018, the PR Service of the Ministry of Justice gave BPN the following answer:

  “It is the Minister’s directive. This decision was not made today but has been in force since 2015. And I am telling you that from this time, we do not give answers to Palitra and have suspended business relations with them. We are not in a Q&A regime with Palitra and we are unable to give any information.”

As seen in the answer from the Ministry of Justice’s Press Service, Tea Tsulukiani instructed public agencies under her subordination not to have cooperation with the PalitraMedia holding. This was the issue upon which Ana Dolidze made her comment.

The Constitution of Georgia is the foremost guarantee of any citizen of Georgia to have access to public information. In accordance with Section 1 of Article 41 of the Constitution:  “Every citizen of Georgia has the right of access to information as determined by the law, as well as to official documents about him/her stored in state institutions, unless they contain state, professional, or commercial secrets.” In turn, the General Administrative Code

of Georgia governs the rule for requesting and receiving public information. In accordance with Article 37 of the Administrative Code of Georgia:  “Everyone has the right to request public information regardless of its physical form and stored conditions, and choose the form of receiving public information if it is of different types and to access the original information. In the case of a risk of damaging the original information, the public institution is obliged to make the original available for reading under supervision or present a duly certified copy.” In accordance with Article 10 of the same Code:  “A public institution is obliged to issue public information, including public information requested electronically, immediately or not later than ten days.” In addition, Article 41 of the same Code says:  “If a public institution refuses to issue public information on necessary grounds, it is obliged, within three days from making the decision, to explain to the applicant in writing his/her rights and the appeal procedure as well as to specify the structural subdivision or the public institution with whom consultations were held when making a decision to refuse to issue the information.”

The Ministry of Justice’s Press Service’s reply clearly contradicts the aforementioned law and the Constitution itself. The law does not grant any authority to any single public institution and/or official to restrict issuing public information because of his personal attitude.

Of note is that apart from BPN, other organisations, including FactCheck,

have encountered problems multiple times when trying to receive public information from the Ministry of Justice and its subordinate bodies.

For instance, FactCheck has still not received a reply from the Ministry of Justice to a letter sent in March 2017 and no information has become available as to the reason for no reply. FactCheck addressed the Ministry of Justice on 15 February 2018 with another letter requesting public information but to date no reply has been received. Despite our attempts, we have not received any written or verbal justification as to the reason why specific information is not being sent to us. On 18 April 2018, FactCheck requested information from the National Agency of Public Registry. In response, the Agency asked for ten days to process the information. However, ten months have passed since that day and FactCheck’s question still remains unanswered. On 25 September 2018, we requested

information from the Social Services Development Agency but to date we have received no reply.

In accordance with the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information’s (IDFI) 2016 Report on Access to Public Information in Georgia,

the least open public institution in terms of issuing information was the Ministry of Justice. An excerpt from this report reads as follows:  “The least open public institution of Georgia in 2016 is the Ministry of Justice together with 12 of its subordinate bodies which left without an answer all 346 of our freedom of information requests.” The report goes on:  “The evident worsening of access to information in the system of the Ministry of Justice has become evident since 2014 when the indicator decreased from 95.6% (in 2013) to 48.4%. In 2015, this indicator further decreased to 3.9% and to 0% in 2016.

Of note is that in January 2017, the Public Defender of Georgia ruled that the Ministry of Justice and 11 LEPLs under its subordination violated the IDFI’s rights by not issuing information and addressed the Ministry of Justice with recommendations. However, the Ministry of Justice did not consider these recommendations. In accordance with the organic Law of Georgia on the Public Defender, bodies of state and local authorities, public institutions or officials who receive the Public Defender’s recommendations have an obligation to consider them and inform the Public Defender about discussion results in written form. This obligation was only fulfilled by the National Agency of Public Registry. As a result, Ucha Nanuashvili submitted a lawsuit against Tea Tsulukiani in Tbilisi City Court. The Court ruled that Tea Tsulukiani was guilty: “Tea Tsulukiani, DOB 21 January 1975, is recognised as a perpetrator in breaching Article 173 of the Administrative Offences Code of Georgia. Pursuant to Article 22 of the same Code, she will be absolved from administrative punishment and be given a verbal admonition.

In accordance with GYLA’s 2017 report which touches upon the accessibility of public information among other issues, the Ministry of Justice was underlined as one of the leading public institutions in terms of leaving public information request letters without reply.