White and Black Lists
The Freedom of Information Center of Armenia quarterly publishes the “Black List” of those officials who head agencies that have violated the access to information right in that time period. Utilizing these quarterly reports, FOICA publishes an annual “Black List.”
The Black List includes heads of national, local self-government, and other institutions, or heads of organizations of public importance that:
• Do not respond to information requests,
• Respond to information requests after the deadlines defined by the ARM “Law on Freedom of Information.” (While the “Law on Freedom of Information” defines a timeframe of five business days to respond to written inquiries, FOICA allows an additional four businesdays to allow time for postal delivery. Thus, a response is considered in violation of deadline if it is not received within nine business days after sending the information request.)
• Do not provide legal reasons for denying a request.
• Provide incomplete or false information,
• Define and/or charge illegal fees for giving information.
• Cite improper information sources.
• Do not properly publish information subject to mandatory publication in due times, in accordance with the ARM “Law onFreedom of Information”, articles 3 and 7.
The head of the institution that violates the access to information right appears on the Black List because a) he or she represents that institution, both formally and practically; and b) the Law on Freedom of Information requires all public institutions to follow specified procedures and to uphold and promote the right of citizens to have access to public information, and as such, if the institution is not complying with the law, the ultimate responsibility rests with the official heading that institution.
In the past, the percentage of unanswered inquires was in the range of 30-36%. Currently, as the Republic of Armenia Law on Freedom of Information is in effect already for about a decade, this figure has improved significantly as a result of numerous trainings conducted, litigations launched and public awareness campaigns organized by FOICA: in 2012 the number of unanswered FOICA inquires decreased twice, dropping to 15.6%, compared to 35% recorded in previous years.
The number of silent refusals has diminished, instead being replaced by largely incomplete or groundless replies or unjustified refusals. Thus, previously the officials tended to avoid providing information that could have shown their institution at a disadvantage, and left the information inquiriesunanswered. Currently, in response to “problematic” information inquiries the officials prefer to provide incomplete, evasive and unessential answers, rather than leaving them unanswered.
With all of this in mind, effective July 1, 2013 the FOICA introduces more rigorous criteria for blacklisting. Before including an official and the corresponding institution on the Black List, the FOICA takes the following steps:
STEP 1: After the deadline of nine business days, defined above, is exceeded, the FOICA representative calls and checks whether the inquiry was received and who is responsible for it.
STEP 2: After receiving an incomplete answer, a groundless denial, or no answer, the Center sends a second inquiry. (In this case the deadline is also nine business days).
STEP 3: After leaving the second inquiry unanswered that specific body and its head appear in the Black List.
The FOICA Black List is continuously updated. All those institutions that review their activities after being included in the quarterly Black List, and carry on reforms that improve information accessibility will not be included in the Black List for subsequent quarters or on the Annual Black List of officials who have violated the access to information right. Indeed, FOICA will note on its Black List page the progress made by such institutions. At the end of the year, the annual Black List is developed based on the quarterly data. The Annual Black List will also note the positive changes made by the relevant instititions.