Georgia at the crossroads
Transparency Woes

Challenges in Accessing Public Information in Georgia
© Transparency by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free

Georgia's state agencies' activities and budget spending lack transparency. Access to public information has deteriorated significantly since 2021. Independent media outlets and non-governmental organizations operating in Georgia cannot fully obtain information from various government agencies.

According to the General Administrative Code, state agencies must promptly provide public information within ten working days at the latest unless the information pertains to personal matters or is classified as a state, commercial, or professional secret. However, journalists often wait weeks, months, or even years for a response to their information requests. Sometimes, their questions are left completely unanswered. This problem extends beyond media representatives.

According to a report from the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), only 58% of public information requests were answered in 2022, marking the lowest rate since 2010. The availability of information has worsened, most notably within ministries and their subordinate agencies. This governmental policy has persisted actively throughout 2023. According to the organization, the root cause lies in the systemic illegalities within public institutions and the lack of effective legal mechanisms to address them.

"In the first five months of 2023, IDFI received responses to only 94 out of 1,255 public information requests sent to ministries and their subordinate agencies," the organization reported.

To illustrate this with concrete examples, the Ministry of Culture has left numerous inquiries from the Investigative Journalist Team, "iFact," unanswered. Among them were inquiries concerning matters of significant public interest, such as the status of the Gelati Monastery and its rehabilitation process. No public documents have been provided.

Consequently, the decision was made to pursue public information through the courts, and in October 2022, legal action was initiated against the Ministry of Culture, represented by lawyers from IDFI. However, from 2022 until the present day, they are still awaiting the scheduling of a court session.

Obtaining information from the government proves challenging even for opposition members of parliament. Ana Natsvlishvili, a deputy of the "Lelo" party, recounts her frequent attempts to address various agencies with parliamentary inquiries, only to receive delayed, incomplete, or no response at all.

Natsvlishvili revealed that sometimes she has to submit inquiries to some agencies two or three times. From her experience, the Ministry of Culture is one of the most uncooperative agencies.

The parliamentarian has stressed the importance of timely responses, as the relevance of an issue may diminish after 2-3 months. Natsvlishvili also highlights instances where responses from public agencies span several pages but lack substantive information.

Despite the newly appointed Prime Minister, Irakli Kobakhidze, 's assurance that the law regarding public information disclosure will be upheld, media outlets have not observed this change. Access to public information has become increasingly challenging, even within agencies where responses were relatively swift before Kobakhidze's premiership. According to the "iFact" team, a good example of this is the "Produce in Georgia" program under the Ministry of Economy, where they had to wait for a month for public information and file an administrative lawsuit in early April. They have yet to receive a response.

Nino Bakraze is co-founder of iFact. Bakradze is graduate of Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) Media Management and Journalism Master's degree program. Has 14 years’ experience as a journalist and 10 years’ experience as an investigative reporter.