Verkhovna Rada and Constitutional Court least willing to divulge public information
According to Taras Shevchenko, Director of the Media Law Institute, it is virtually impossible to win law suits against Ukraine’s Parliament and Constitutional Court demanding that public information be divulged. The Institute created a Fund for the Protection of the Right of Access to Information in 2012, which has now been involved in 20 litigations. All include appeals to the courts over failure by the authorities to provide information in response to information requests from civic activists and journalists. Three of the cases have gone to the European Court of Human Rights.
While Mr Shevchenko pointed to some positive moves since the adoption of the Public Information Act in 2012, it is of enormous significance who the respondent is. It is virtually impossible to win a suit against the Verkhovna Rada or Constitutional Court.
One recent suit has been reported here. In April Viktor Taran asked the Office of the Verkhovna Rada for the income declarations of six MPs; the heads of MP factions; and the Parliamentary Speaker. The information request was rejected, with the claim being that the information was confidential. He filed a suit with the court, since the refusal was in breach of the Public Information Act and the Law on the Principles for Preventing and Countering Corruption. In fact declarations must not only be provided in response to requests, but also published in official publications.
After requests for information which are not answered are questions about spending of public funding. Journalist Serhiy Andrushko, for example, asked for information about the visit by the Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk to the Olympics in London in 2012. He asked in particular for the makeup of the delegation, the general costs of the trip, how long they were there; how much the flights cost and whether it was a chartered flight. The information request was not met over several months with various reasons being cited. The first instance court did in fact partially allow the journalist’s suit ordering the Ministry to provide information about the flight, but not about the makeup of the delegation. The Ministry lodged an appeal and the case is still under examination.
Taras Shevchenko notes that information about public spending is open information. They had not envisaged, he says, such flagrant and cynical failure to comply with the law on the pretext that the information is private or confidential.