First legal proceedings over alleged infringement of Public Information Law
17 May saw the first law suit lodged against alleged breach by the head of a regional council of the Law on Access to Public Information which came into force on 9 May 2011. The coordinators of the Transcarpathian Civic Centre are asking the court to suspend the force of an Instruction issued by the Head of the Transcarpathian Regional Council, and also to order the management of the Regional Could to refrain from further action on considering draft decisions and make them public in accordance with the Law on Access to Public Information.
On 10 May I. Baloha, Head of the Transcarpathian Regional Council signed an Instruction on holding the fourth session of the Regional Council. 27 issues were at first put on the agenda. On 16 May with another Instruction, Mr Baloha added 5 further issues and postponed the first plenary meeting of the session until 25 May.
However the Instruction runs counter to the Laws on Local Self-Government in Ukraine and On Access to Public Information as regards the requirement to publish draft decisions. According to Article 15.3 of the Public Information Law, draft decisions which it is planned to consider must be made public 20 working days before their review. As of 18 May there was no sign of these on the Council’s official website or anywhere else. This means that in breach of the Law, the Council’s deputies are proposing to consider draft versions and pass decisions without informing residents of the region.
Attention is also drawn in the law suit to other infringements in the Instruction which Baloha issued. Despite the text having been corrected, a full list of the issues is not given. According to the Law on Local Self-Government issues to be considered must be made public at least 10 days before the session. It is alleged that the Instruction deliberately removes some of the issues to be considered, for example No. 25-27. In the case of No. 25, for example, “On property” it is already known that this is not one issue and that there will be more. At least 3 draft decisions, including on assessment of property, will be considered. There is an analogous situation with No. 25 on Mineral wealth and No. 27 Miscellaneous.
There is a practical level to the problem of concealment of public information. At the last Regional Council session on 14 April 2011, without prior inclusion in the Instruction on the calling of the Council or making the draft decision public, the Regional Council took the decision to close down 8 chemists in Uzhhorod. The question had been prepared beforehand, but was concealed.
Civic Centre believes that order is needed: there should be a section on the Regional Council’s website entitled “Draft Council decisions” where, as they appear, they are made accessible and only those issues should be discussed at the session which have been the subject of public discussion.