Secrets defended to the last
It was back in 2007 that the Public Committee for Fighting Corruption turned to the Ternopil City Council asking to see the decisions taken by previous Councils regarding transfer of land and other municipal property into the ownership or use of particular individuals, as well as documents linked with implementation of these decisions. There seemed no reason for the Council to be worried since even if unseemly details emerged, they implicated their predecessors, not them.
However the authorities understand that any concession can become a dangerous precedent, and who knows, maybe Ternopil residents will then want to see present decisions pertaining to land and property. The Public Committee therefore had its request turned down, on the pretext that this was information on restricted access. Our ministries and departments have indeed issued plenty of orders stamping as classified a huge amount of socially important information.
The Public Committee for Fighting Corruption did not give up, but filed a suit with the regional Economic Court asking the court to declare the inaction of the City Council be declared unlawful, and order it to release for viewing the decisions of previous councils. The Ternopil courts rejected the suits saying that since the information sought carried stamps restricting access, it was legitimate to refuse to provide it.
The city officials did not have long to bask in their victory with the Lviv Administrative Court of Appeal cancelling the first instance court’s ruling and partially allowing the claim. The inaction of the Ternopil City Council in not providing the information was declared unlawful and they were ordered to provide the claimant with previous councils’ decisions. The Court stressed that the decisions of a body of local self-government, in this case, the Ternopil City Council, on regulating land relations were public acts whether they concerned individuals or the public in general since they had a direct or indirect impact on the interests of all the city residents.
The Ternopil City Council appealed against this inconvenient court ruling to the High Administrative Court which also decided against them. Incredibly the Council still refused to put an end to the court wrangling dating back to 2007 and at the end of 2010 they applied to the Supreme Court for a review of the High Administrative Court, alleging an incorrect application by the cassation level court of the law. Here they were also unsuccessful, and there were no more avenues for them to follow.
The City Council is thus forced to provide the information, and this is a vital precedent.
Furthermore in April this year the Law on Access to Public Information comes into force. Article 6 of this states that “access may not be restricted to information about the use of public funding, the taking ownership, use or disposal of State-owned or municipal property, including access to copies of the relevant documents, the conditions under which they received this funding or property, the first name, patronymic and last name of individuals and the names of legal entities which received this funding or property”.