Law on Access to Public Information again stalled
After the Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech reported that consideration of the vital Law on Access to Public Information had disappeared from the agenda for 2 November, Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn instructed the Committee to hold another meeting on the draft law.
Lytvyn who has spoken out in support of the bill said that he had held talks with the heads of parliamentary factions. He pointed out that during the vote on 21 October, when only one member of the Party of the Regions and none from the Communist Party voted for the bill, the Committee had agreed to meet and consider 10 proposals put forward by National Deputy from the Party of the Regions, Edward Pavlenko.
The Head of the Committee, Andriy Shevchenko, said that some of these proposals had been taken into consideration, that the bill was ready for its second reading, however he agreed to hold another session. He explained that while from the legal point of view the Committee has completed its work, it is better to ensure that nobody can blame the Committee for holding up the passing of this law.
During the meeting of the coordination council, a representative of the Human Rights Ombudsperson said that the Ombudsperson also has reservations about the draft law. No details were given.
On Monday morning the Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle reported that according to the World Bank more than half of Ukraine’s economy is in the gray zone. Citizens do not give the state money which officials do not account for. It was stressed that a law on access to public information was vital for improving the situation.
The draft law in question would force officials at all levels to answer information requests within strict deadlines, and post information of public importance on the Internet.
According to Ake Peterson, Coordinator of Council of Europe Programmes in Europe, the law is vital primarily for fighting misappropriation of taxpayers’ money.
He says that Ukraine must once and for all establish what information constitutes a state secret, while other information must be on full access and officials who ignore this should be held to answer.
President Yanukovych has stated that he will sign the law, however recent experience where his party failed to vote for the law does not fill supporters of the law with optimism.
According to representative of Transparency International in Ukraine, Oleksiy Khmara, it is impossible to achieve transparency of the authorities under present legislation. He says that while the present law from 1992 guarantees the right to information, in practice this is virtually impossible to achieve. You have to wait 30 days and a state body can decide at its own discretion what information is open, and what is not. Only a written application is considered. These and other requirements, he says, are artificial obstructions.
Mr Khmara says that the recent scandal over alleged misappropriations by Tymoshenko’s government demonstrate the need for a law on access to public information. He says that the kind of allegations could not arise where information was available for scrutiny. He also points out that the present government has not seen fit to even inform the taxpayer how much they will pay to the American “auditors”.
There have been consistent calls from human rights and media organizations for the adoption of the Law on Access to Public Information.