Freedom of Information Center of Armenia.

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Freedom of Information Center Request Statistics and Judicial Practices in 2013

11.03.2014

Statistics of the Information Requests

In 2013 the Freedom of Information Center of Armenia made total 203 requests to various organizations that possessed relevant information.

 

The results of these requests are as follows:

87 requests (42.9%) – timely and complete responses,
41 requests (20.2%) – late, but complete responses,
13 requests (6.4%) – substantiated responses with redirecting references,
21 requests (10.3%) – incomplete responses,
8 requests (3.9%) – unsubstantiated response,
16 requests (7.9%) – groundless refusal,
17 requests (8.4%) – silent refusals.

No legally substantiated refusals to any of the 203 requests were received by FOICA from those in possession of relevant information.

The responses were deemed unsubstantiated when the information received in response was different from the requested one.

In order to uncover the particularities of application of the right to freedom of information in 2013, it is necessary to make a comparison with the data of the previous years.

In this respect, the percentage of complete responses almost did not change: in 2013, 2012 and 2011 the percentages were 63%, 65% and 69%, respectively. The combined percentage of substantiated refusals and responses with redirecting references essentially did not change either, with 6% in 2013, and 5% in both 2011 and 2010.

FOI Problems Based on 2013 FOICA Requests

Although the Republic of Armenia Law on Freedom of Information is in effect for about decade and the practices of its application tend to improve, however, the silent refusals to respond and incomplete, flawed responses still continue to remain a considerable problem. Nevertheless, the number of silent refusals has dropped significantly over the last few years. For instance, in 2011 22% of FOICA requests remained unanswered, whereas in 2012 this percentage declined to 15% and in 2013 it dropped in further down to 8%. Hence, between 2011 and 2013 there has been an almost three-fold decrease of silent refusals. However, the decline in number of silent refusals was supplanted by an increase in the number of mostly incomplete or uncorroborated responses and groundless refusals.

As seen, the percentage of incomplete responses in 2013 has increased 10 times as compared to that of 2011, with groundless refusals and unsubstantiated responses increasing four times and twice, respectively.

It means that in the past the officials tended to avoid providing information that could have shown themselves or their institution at a disadvantage, and left the information requests unanswered. Currently, in response to “problematic” information requests the officials prefer to provide incomplete, evasive and unessential answers, rather than leaving them unanswered at all.

Another problem in the area of FOI is with the deadlines for providing information, as in many cases FOICA received though exhaustive, but late responses.

In classifying the responses to requests as timely or late, the FOICA was guided by Article 9, paragraph 7 of the Republic of Armenia Law on Freedom of Information, according to which the answer to a written inquiry must be provided within 5 days after its receipt. FOICA has been sending its requests by mail. Hence, a response was considered timely if it was provided within 9 days, of which 5 days are stipulated by the Law, two days were counted for mail delivery and additional two days as non-business weekend. In order to avoid inaccuracies, the response time was counted from the day an inquiry was sent to the date indicated on the post office stamp on the envelope with the response letter.

Even with this method to count the time, about 30% of the complete responses received by FOICA were late. Given that a late response could be redundant or no longer relevant and result in violation of the inquirer’s right, as well as that the RA Law on Freedom of Information has been in effect for more than a decade and thousands of officials have received trainings in the FOI and are well aware about the stipulations of the Law, the problem with late responses is very important today. It points to a lack of transparent and open work culture among the officials or perhaps, an absence of willingness to work in such manner.

With all of this in mind, from July 1, 2013 the FOICA introduced more rigorous criteria for blacklisting. Since then the Black List included not only officials who did not respond to FOICA requests, but also those who provided incomplete answers, as well as significantly breached the stipulated deadline. Given that sometimes technical or human factors may be involved, due to which the response to an inquiry might be sent a few days after the deadline stipulated by the Law, the FOICA considers 15 and more calendar days as a significant breach of the deadline.

Judging by the responses to the requests sent by FOICA in 2013, there are no absolutely best organizations in terms of the freedom of information.

The main reason for this is the peculiarities of the practical legal application of the freedom of information. For example, in 2013 the Yerevan city municipality was among the best performers in terms of exhaustive answers, as 13 responses out of 14 contained complete answers or substantiated answers with redirecting references. At the same time, only four of these responses from the Yerevan municipality were provided in time, while the rest were late and some came in 15 or more days. So it turns out that the municipality was among the best in terms of completeness of the responses, but among the worst in terms of timeliness. It has to be noted that after receiving the negative “award” in the annual nomination “Golden key and rusty lock” on September 28, 2013 as the slowest agency, the Yerevan municipality has considerably improved its work with respect to appropriate and timely responses.

In 2013 selecting the worst-performing organization for freedom of information based on responses to the FOICA requests was not unequivocal either. For instance, Parking City Service CJSC was the worst performer as far as the provided responses are concerned, because for all three requests addressed to them in 2013 groundless refusals to answer were received. However, it has to be taken into consideration that all the requests were about the same matters and in all three cases the company expressed its stance on the same matters. It has to be mentioned that FOICA considers the company’s refusal unlawful and has brought the case to the court of law.

Typically, in 2013 all organizations in possession of relevant information had both positive and negative (at least, late responses) records in their practice of responding to the FOICA requests.


FOI Court Cases in 2013

In 2013 five litigations regarding the right to freedom of information initiated by FOICA were completed. These court cases include:

  1. FOICA v. “Yerevan Urban Development and Investment Programs Department” SNCO
  2. FOICA v. “Hamalsaranakanner” Condominium
  3. FOICA v. “Daughter Marianna” Co. Ltd.
  4. FOICA v. Democratic Party of Armenia
  5. FOICA v. the RoA Ministry of Finance, Licensing Agency of RA MF and Financial Oversight Inspectorate of the RA MF
  6. FOICA v. the RA National Assembly

In the cases ofFOICA v. “Hamalsaranakanner” Condominium and FOICA v. the RA Ministry of Finance, Licensing Agency of RA MF and Financial Oversight Inspectorate of the RA MF early settlements were reached with the defendants, because these agencies possessing relevant information provided the information requested by the FOICA before the end of the proceedings.

In the remaining four cases FOICA won the lawsuits and actually, these cases had a significance of precedents.

Particularly, in the FOICA v. Democratic Party of Armenia and FOICA v. the RoA National Assembly cases the Court not only recognized the violation of FOICA’s right to receive information, but also ordered the defendants to compensate FOICA’s legal expenses, constituting AMD 100,000 in case of the party and AMD 50,000 in case of the National Assembly.

The most significant precedents were achieved in the cases FOICA v. “Yerevan Urban Development and Investment Programs Department” SNCO and FOICA v. “Daughter Marianna” Co. Ltd. In these cases, among other satisfied claims of FOICA, the Court ruled to impose administrative penalties on the defendants for violating the right to FOI. An administrative penalty of AMD 80,000 (of which 30,000 for not providing the information requested by FOICA’s first inquiry and AMD 50,000 for the second inquiry) was imposed on TigranVardanyan, Director of “Daughter Marianna” Co. Ltd. The Court imposed a fine of AMD 50,000 on Ruben Harutyunyan, Director of “Yerevan Urban Development and Investment Programs Department” SNCO, for violating the right to freedom of information. As a reminder, previously the only case where administrative penalty was imposed for infringing upon the right to FOI was back in 2009, in the court case against Elpin village municipality, when the mayor of Elpin was ordered to pay a fine of AMD 50,000.

Information on the mentioned court cases and the court rulings are available at FOICA website www.foi.am under the Court cases section.
 

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