Luhansk Region breaks all records in failure to provide information
A study carried out by two coalitions of civic organizations working in 9 regions of the country has found that the Luhansk region is firmly in the lead as regards the number of violations of the right to information. As part of an anti-corruption programme “Decent Ukraine”, the organizations are investigating the level of transparency of procedure and accessibility of information in the area of land relations and city construction. During August and September ten organizations from nine regions sent information requests to the authorities and bodies of local self-government. It was in the Luhansk region that the researchers received the most idiotic answers from the authorities. The authors stress that the examples given are merely the tip of the iceberg.
First case: Svativsky District Department of Land Resources
In September volunteers from the “Luhansk Archaeological Union sent this department a number of information requests. They asked for information about land sites in reserve and in the State Reserve Fund and for copies of the plans for land use showing the layout of the above-mentioned land sites.
Reaction was not slow in coming – within two days of sending the letters one of the volunteers received a phone call from the Head of the Department Mr Kosohor. Instead of providing answers, Mr Kosohor began threatening that he would approach the Security Service [SBU] since he claimed the information was a state secret.
After the coordinators of the project circulated a press release to the media speaking of the pressure being brought to bear against civic activists, together with an explanation of how lawyers from the Department were twisting the law, the bureaucratic arbitrary rule stopped. The requests for information were, however, turned down.
Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group stresses that the information sought should have been made available since it falls into none of the exceptions listed in Article 34 of the Constitution.
Second case: The Starobilsk City Council and the District Prosecutors Office
Much the same scenario was played out here after activists asked deputies to provide information about their activities within the council regarding approving construction, about speeches, deputy information requests and appeals on this theme, as well as information about how often reports are presented to voters and about any ensuing public discussion.
The reaction here too was verbal with one of the City Council deputies trying to put pressure on the volunteer via his relatives. The deputy claimed that such a quantity of information requests at one time was an infringement and that the person could face administrative liability.
The Prosecutors Office which has held first place in the rating for the most secretive public authority retains its position. In response to an information request regarding how surveillance is carried out of observance of land and city construction legislation, the District Prosecutor claimed that the information was confidential. The activists have asked the Regional Prosecutors Office and the Prosecutor Generals Office for an explanation of the term confidential.
Yevhen Zakharov points out with regret that the situation with the prosecutors office has not improved with them continuing to not register their normative legal acts with the Ministry of Justice. This means that they are simply not known to the public. Item 3 of the Order passed by the Prosecutor General on 18 March 2005 establishing a list of documents on restricted access can if the will is there be interpreted so broadly that almost all analytical material regarding prosecutors response can be included. This however is in violation of the Law “On the prosecutors office”.
Third case: the Luhansk City Council
Out of the information requests sent to the 75 deputies of the Luhansk City Council only response was received but it was a classic. The deputy when asked for information about what a report of his activities should contain answered as follows: “Your request has been examined and turned down due to the fact that in accordance with Article 9 of the Law “On information” “.. each citizen is guaranteed access to information which concerns him or her personally.” The deputy thus indicated unambiguously that information about his activities is no business of those who entrusted him with his powers.
Head of the Lviv Regional Charitable Foundation “Resonance” Olena Hrabovska believes that the examples cited clearly show the inadequacy of Ukrainian legislation for regulation access to information. She points out that the law provides no clear definition of confidential information. Furthermore, according to international standards, only the actual information deemed confidential should be restricted and not the entire document. There is a clear list of what can constitute a state secret in the law “On State secrets”, and it is difficult to fathom how information about land sites held in reserve and in the State Reserve Fund could jeopardize state security.
A summary of a report by Kostyantyn Reutsky on www.helsinki.org.ua