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HCA Vanadzor finds problematic the draft on not publishing details of state officials’ business trips and recommends cancelling it

July 20, 2021

Activities | Publications | News | Right to Seek and Receive Information | Legislative Proposals | Legislative Proposals and Analysis

The Position of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor on the RA Prime Minister’s Draft Decision “On Making Amendments to the RA Prime Minister’s Decision N 1230-Ն of 19 September 2018” 

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor assesses the draft in terms of ensuring the right to freedom of information, as well as principles of transparent and good governance. Besides, adoption of the proposed amendments will amount to additional workload on the state system, since the draft authors have mentioned that no restriction is to be set in terms of receiving the information possessed by e-gov.am website, but the procedure of receiving the information is to be changed. 

 

The Ministry of High-Tech Industry of the Republic of Armenia developed RA Prime Minister’s Draft Decision “On Making Amendments to the RA Prime Minister’s Decision N 1230-Ն of 19 September 2018” (hereinafter referred to as “the Draft”) and put it for public discussion on 2 July 2020. 

 

The Draft proposes to exclude information on trip purpose, topics discussed, meetings, speeches, issues raised or discussed, decisions made during meetings, arrangements, documents signed and recommendations from the reports on state officials’ business trips published in “Business trip reports” section of www.e-gov.am webpage. 

 

The draft authors note that the aforementioned amendments do not amount to a restriction on receiving information of the e-gov.am website, instead, the procedure of receiving this information is changed, i.e.,an information request  is needed to receive the relevant information, in particular, in the frame of the Law On Freedom of Information. [1]

 

The Ministry of High-Tech Industry of the Republic of Armenia assessed the above-mentioned information on business trips as risky and sensitive in terms of serving state interests of the Republic of Armenia. 

 

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor (HCA Vanadzor) assesses the draft as problematic in terms of ensuring the right to freedom of information, as well as principles of transparent and good governance. Besides, adoption of the proposed changes will create additional workload for the state system, since the Draft authors have noted that no restriction is to be set on receiving information possessed by the e-gov.am website, but the procedure of receiving information is changed.  Thus, the public still has access to the above-mentioned information through information requests and therefore that information will be subject to publication, as the Law On Freedom of Information does not set any ground for restricting information provision. In that case, it is not clear how the Draft aim will be achieved, taking into account the Draft authors’ substantiations. Such artificial processes may be conducive to abuse by state bodies and illegal restrictions on access to information.  

 

HCA Vanadzor reviewed also the relevant international guideline documents that express principles, international bodies’ approaches and states’ practice in protection of the right to freedom of information.

 

In their joint declaration of 2004, Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression of the UN,  the OSCE and the OAS mentioned that “Public authorities should be required to publish pro-actively, even in the absence of a request, a range of information of public interest. Systems should be put in place to increase, over time, the amount of information subject to such routine disclosure”.[2]

 

ARTICLE 19 non-governmental organization’s International Centre against Censorship developed 9 principles entitled “The Public’s Right to Know: Principles on Right to Information Legislation”[3], which were endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, in his report to the 2000 Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2000/63)[4], as principles based on international and regional law and standards, evolving State practice, and the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations. The second principle concerns the obligation to publish information, according to which public bodies should be under an obligation to publish key information. The right to information implies not only that public bodies respond to requests for information but also that they proactively publish and disseminate widely information of significant public interest, subject only to reasonable limits based on resources and capacity. Public bodies should, as a minimum, be under an obligation to routinely publish and update, inter alia, the content of any decision or policy affecting the public, along with reasons for the decision and background material of importance in framing the decision, including all environmental, social, or human rights impact assessments. 

 

It is noted in the report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights that the right of access to information is a critical tool for democratic participation, oversight of the State and public administration, and the monitoring of corruption. In democratic systems, in which the State’s conduct is governed by publicity and transparency, the right of access to information in the State’s possession is a fundamental requirement for ensuring democratic participation, good and transparent conduct of public affairs, and the oversight of government and its authorities by public opinion, as it enables civil society to scrutinize the actions of the authorities[5].

 

In respect of the possible restriction of access to information on meetings or negotiations, HCA Vanadzor has only recorded the Bulgarian practice. Bulgaria’s Law on Access to Public Information sets that provision of information shall be restricted if it contains opinions and positions in connection with present or forthcoming negotiations. At the same time, the law enshrines safeguards in respect of the right of access to information: the above-mentioned restriction can not apply upon expiration of 2 years from the creation of such information and access to official public information may not be restricted in case of prevailing public interest[6]. It should be highlighted that restriction on the provision of such information is set by law.  

 

Taking into account that decisions taken and documents signed as a result of business trips can directly affect individuals’ rights and legal interests, and also that publishing such information stems from principles of accountability, transparency and good governance of state bodies, we recommend cancelling the Draft.  

 

______

[1] See justification of the Draft at  https://www.e-draft.am/projects/3382/justification

[2] JOINT DECLARATION By the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression 6 December 2004, p.34, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/5/5/99558.pdf

[3] Principle 1: Maximum disclosure, Principle 2: Obligation to publish, Principle 3: Promotion of open government, Principle 4: Limited scope of exceptions, Principle 5: Processes to facilitate access, Principle 6: Costs, Principle 7: Open meetings, Principle 8: Disclosure takes precedence, Principle 9: Protection for whistleblowers.

[4] https://undocs.org/en/E/CN.4/2000/63

[5] http://www.oas.org/dil/access_to_information_iachr_guidelines.pdf

[6] Law for access to public information of Bulgaria, Art. 13. Prom. SG. 55/7 Jul 2000, amend. SG. 1/4 Jan 2002, amend. SG. 45/30 Apr 2002, amend. SG. 103/23 Dec 2005, amend. SG. 24/21 Mar 2006, amend. SG. 30/11 Apr 2006, amend. SG. 59/21 Jul 2006, amend. SG. 49/19 Jun 2007, amend. SG. 57/13 Jul 2007, amend. SG. 104/5 Dec 2008, amend. SG. 77/1 Oct 2010, amend. SG. 39/20 May 2011.

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