The twilight zones of Ukrainian regional authorities
The regional authorities least forthcoming with information are those of Kyiv and the eastern regions of Ukraine. The situation, in fact, in the West is not a great deal better. The reasons, however, for the secrecy would appear to differ widely depending on the region.
Such a conclusion can be made on the results of the first stage of a project being undertaken by a group of 23 environmental organizations. They sent formal requests for information to the regional State administrations, appellate courts and State Judicial Administration offices in all regions of Ukraine, except the Kirovohrad region, as well as in Kyiv (including the City State Administration) and the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea (including the Council of Ministers).
The project is being carried out with the financial support of the International Renaissance Foundation.
The appellate courts were asked for information about reviews on appeal of administrative cases. This information is part of reporting and is included in the mandatory government statistics form 22-A.
The request for information from the State Judicial Administration offices was analogous, but concerned examination of administrative cases in local courts (in accordance with statistics form 2-A).
The court statistics were needed to achieve one of the objectives of the project, this being to prepare an independent (of government agencies) expert conclusion on the effectiveness of the administrative justice system in Ukraine as a means of protecting human rights, including environmental rights. This was of course based on regions.
The regional State administrations were asked for generalized data about applications from members of the public received in 2006, grouped according to the subject matter. This is also reporting information and must be available.
It is planned, on the basis of this information, to prepare an analysis of the overall number of conflicts arising in todays Ukraine which pertain to environmental and other human rights.
The information requests asked for responses by post or email. In the latter case, it was guaranteed that the government authority would receive written confirmation that the information requested had been provided.
The information requests sent to the different regional authorities were all identical and the fact that the responses were different only demonstrates different attitudes to Ukrainian laws from high-level regional officials.
74 information requests were sent in all.
Responses containing the information were received to 44 of them (59.5%). In 41 cases copies were received (either by normal post or email) of the relevant statistical forms or their compilation and in two cases there were references to the official websites where the requested data could be found.
The Luhansk Regional State Administration telephoned and dictated the data regarding applications from members of the public.
In 7 responses (9.5%) only some of the information requested was provided. Or other information than that requested was given. This made it impossible to use them for the expert analysis. A unique response was received from an appellate court in the Donetsk region:: statistical form 22-A specially changed by removing some of the information from it. The missing information was specifically the number of judges whose rulings had been revoked by the appellate court. The organization asking for the information was informed that it had been removed in a covering letter.
6 responses (8%) were also received in which the information requests were turned down, with different reasons being given. All such responses came from appellate courts. And finally, in 17 cases government officials used the most standard technique among bureaucrats – they didnt respond at all.
This latter method was most favoured by Kyiv regional and city officials who in total prepared one single substantive response to the six information requests, with the others being ignored. The Chair of the Kyiv Regional Appeal Court did admittedly telephone the organization which had asked for the information (the information centre of the Ukrainian Environmental Association “Zeleny svit” [“Green world”] and told them frankly: “Dont expect a response”.
Avoidance as a means of communication with ones fellow citizens remains reasonably popular among officials in western regions also. One in three requests for information received no response at all. On the other hand, of the 16 which were received, 15 provided the full information. More exactly, in all cases copies of the statistical forms were sent, in 5 cases by the simplest means – email. Only the response from the Ternopil Regional Administration was the result of personal creativity, although admittedly the information was not that requested. On the whole the regional authorities in Western Ukraine are not especially law-abiding in providing members of the public with information about their work with only 63% of the information requests being complied with.
The situation was even worse in the East where out of 15 information requests only 7 substantive responses (47%) were received. And although local bureaucrats only ignored one request (the Kharkiv Regional Administration), in 4 cases the response was a refusal to provide the information (the Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv and Zaporizhya Appeal Courts), while in another 3 cases (the Donetsk and Zaporizhya Regional Administration and the Donetsk Appeal Court) the information provided was not that requested.
We would note that of 25 regional centres, the 5 eastern had 4 of the 6 official refusals to provide information and 3 of the 7 cases where the information provided was not given in full or was not that requested. And given that the reporting data requested is available, preparing responses with incomplete information takes much more time and effort than simply copying and sending off the available statistical forms. This gives grounds for concluding that there is a different type of secrecy over information in the West and the East of Ukraine.
Whereas in the West information on request is not provided as a result of typical bureaucratic slovenliness (as well as of the clear over-use of the right to formal requests for information by organizations in civic society where such requests are only made because of grants awarded), in the East this is a method of “regulating” the flow of information. Representatives of the eastern elite are prepared to waste additional time and resources in order simply that information about their activities either does not reach civic society, or reaches it only in the “needed form”.
The best situation in Ukraine as far as public access to information is concerned was recorded for regions in the South (82% substantive responses and the central regions of Ukraine (67%). Full responses to all three information requests were received from the authorities of the Sumy, Khmelnytsky, Chernivtsi Kherson and Vinnytsa regions, as well as the Crimea. Not one response was received from the Kyiv region.
In the Luhansk region two full responses were received to the information requests from the Severodonetsk branch of “Zeleny svit”. This was not, however, without certain coercion. For example, the Luhansk territorial department of the Judicial Administration at first refused to provide the information and only gave it after the environmentalists complained to Kyiv. The Luhansk Regional Administration provided the information after a week of telephone calls. The Luhansk Regional Appeal Court refused to give the information, over which civil suits have been filed.