by Teona Turashvili, the analist in the Institute for Developement of Freedom of Information

The standards of e-democracy are gradually implemented in Georgia. In 2014 Georgia held the 56th place out of 193 countries with the Index of E-governance in the ranking of development of electronic governance, prepared by UN, and thus, has substantially improved the 2012 data (72th place).

One of the main positive changes in terms of accessibility of public data through internet was observed when the Government of Georgia issued a decree regarding proactive disclosure of public information last year. Specifically, on September 1, 2013, the 26th August №219 Decree of the Government of Georgia “about electronic request for and proactive disclosure of public information” entered into force. According to the mentioned decree, before December 31, 2013, the administrative bodies of the government were obliged to create a public information page and publish the 2013 public information in the list attached to the decree on their websites. This list obliged the target institutions to make particular types of information (for instance, information about the state procurements and privatization of state property implemented by the public institution, funding and expenses of the public institution, crucial legal acts, etc.) accessible through their websites.

It is worth mentioning that previously public institutions were not required by law even to develop their official websites, nothing to say about their obligation to release particular public information about their expenditures on their official website. Therefore, establishment and effective use of official website by public institutions for disseminating main figures about their activities was regarded as their good will and illustration of their aspiration for transparency and accountability.

In order to assess the level of openness of governmental data and analyze current situation, within the framework of the international monitoring, existence and availability of particular public data was checked. In particular, main parameters intended to assess the level of accessibility of the following public information in Georgia:

  • Information about the founders of the legal entities;

  • Owners of real property information;

  • Information on the income, property obligations of the heads of the executive agencies;

  • Information on tax payments of individuals and organizations, tax arrears;

  • Information on voting in the top legislative body;

  • Meetings of the top executive body;

  • Accessibility of dissertations;

  • Accessibility of judicial acts;

  • Accessibility of legislative acts;

  • Accessibility of municipal acts;

  • Information on State Budget Execution;

  • Information on persons hosted by the head of State;

  • Availability of crime statistics;

  • Information on state and municipal procurements;

  • Existence of outlines of the holdings of main governmental archives;

  • Existence of state map;

  • Information on election results and other related data.

Apart from this, almost all parameters were evaluated based on these main criteria: “complete”, “topical”, “accessible”, “hypertext”.

Monitoring revealed that information regarding founders, stockholders and other participants involved in the legal entities established under the state laws, main details (owners, location address) about real estate; total annual income of Central Executive Officials (CEOs) and their spouses, as well as the list of their vehicles and real estate was completely published in internet. Precisely, in case of the former, the website - http://napr.gov.ge/?m=229 – enables users to find any data regarding legal entities. However, the main limitation of this data set is the fact that only parts of the information (primarily, ID of the legal entity, name, ID and address of applicant) is published in open format (HTML). As a result, it is not possible to search name of the legal entity by the full name of its founders, stockholders and other participants, since this information is present in PDF format (proprietary format).

Even though data on real estate is integrated in the same e-resource as one of its sections (http://napr.gov.ge/?m=123), all the information regarding each real estate object is published in HTML format. Therefore, any interested person is allowed to process and search the given information.

Besides, the abovementioned data on high officials became accessible since the establishment of the website declaration.gov.ge, managed by the Civil Service Bureau of Georgia. According to the Georgian law, each official completes the Declaration in the following circumstances: a) Within two months following his/her appointment to the position; c) Each year while serving in the position, an official must complete the Declaration within a week from the date of completion of each previous Declaration; d) Candidates for Parliament membership, within a week following their registration as a candidate. Filled-out assets declarations are uploaded on the mentioned unified e-resource. These documents are submitted by President of Georgia, Prime Minister of Georgia, Members of Parliament, Ministers, Judges, Prosecutors, Head of Departments, Governors, Mayors and other high ranking senior officials. Information about their annual income, bank accounts, real estate, contracts, gifts, cash, entrepreneurship activity (if any), movable property (including cars, jewellery, other belongings valued at more than 10 000 GEL/USD 6 200) should be indicated.

Apart from this, high completeness of the revealed data was detected with regard to the results of voting in the Parliament of Georgia, procurements for goods and services planned by particular governmental agencies. It should be noted that data set on voting results in the legislative body is the only exception providing an API (Application Programming Interface) enabling any third party automated processing.

As for web-site “Unified Electronic System of Procurement”, all the required information about state procurements is available on this e-resource; however, the only drawback is that original contracts are published in PDF format.

On the contrary, there are other aspects where Georgia was scored by 0 point, since information implied under these parameters could not be found. Firstly, there is no unified resource where full texts of master and doctoral thesis are available. Besides, people cannot find out the exact amount of taxes paid by separate citizens and organizations during the past two years. Even though each taxpayer has its own online account on the website of the Revenue Service (http://rs.ge/en/1340) and can get information about his/her taxes, this data is not public. Also, Georgia showed the least results in terms of availability of information regarding representational expenses and the number of performed crimes for specific police unit. Also, people and most importantly, journalists do not have access to shorthand notes of the Government meetings. Finally, there is not any interactive map indicating places, dates and types of each crime.

Even though in case of the remaining parameters, partial information was available on the official websites of the respective public institutions, given data were either incomplete or covering particular territories of the country. Consequently, parameters on availability of judicial acts for criminal proceedings were still assessed by 0 point. Similarly, comprehensive information about persons (full name and position of the visitor, reception date, duration and location) hosted by the State cannot be obtained. There is a section devoted to meetings and visits on the web-site of the President of Georgia. However, all required information mentioned above could not be found in the news published under this section. American example can be taken as a good practice for Georgia in this direction. In particular, the official website of the White House provides records of White House visitors on an ongoing basis online. The data set includes information about name of visitor, number of days, number of guests, location of meeting, meeting room, type of meeting and so forth.

In case of outlines of the holdings of National Archives of Georgia, only three (name of particular holding, chronological span of holding, number of cases) out of seven types of required information were provided by its official website.

Besides, judicial government of Georgia established a website, containing judicial acts for administrative, civil and criminal proceedings. As representatives of this project claimed, currently it is still test version, since some court decisions are not accessible for general public (with the exception of those having ID and password of the system, including targets of court decisions). Apart from this, the Supreme Court of Georgia has its own portal, where all decision of this institution can be found. In future, it is planned to integrate these two websites and make a unified portal incorporating comprehensive and thorough judicial acts.

Among the websites containing the information implied under the parameters of the monitoring, section for the results of the voting in the Parliament of Georgia integrated in its official e-resource can be highlighted. As it was mentioned above, it provides an API enabling developers and any interested people to freely tie and connect their program to the data available in this section of the web-site of the legislative body of Georgia. Consequently, changes made to the main database will be automatically reflected by the application of API consumers.

At the same time, advent of the web-site dedicated to state procurements had significant impact on prevention of corruption and improvement of the competition between companies.

In contrast to such positive developments, Georgia has challenges with regard to publication of comprehensive information about taxes and tax arrears of physical and legal entities. It is of equal importance to make information about representational expenses accessible for everyone. Finally, crime statistics sometimes display and show performance of law enforcement agencies, as a result such kind of data always draws attention from civil society. Nevertheless, the criminal statistical data published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in 2012 was not presented according to the types of criminal acts. With regard to the detailed data as of the last two years, this information was published only on June 20, 2014. Nowadays, these figures are inserted as a document to the news on the web-site of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, instead of uploading in a special section devoted to such information on the official web-site of the Ministry. As a result, search for this information can be quite challenging for users.

Obtaining information about allocation of governmental budget in different areas (for instance, defense, healthcare and other priorities) was also difficult since these figures were published in PDF document and required careful observation of the comprehensive data in order to search the desired information.

Based on the results of the monitoring, several general observations can be made:

  • The level of openness and provision of public information by governmental agencies is gradually increasing. However, in order to comply with international standards in this direction Georgia still needs to take substantial and tangible steps leading to fundamental reform of e-democratic standards in public sector;

  • According to this monitoring, Georgia has main challenges in terms of accessibility of data on shorthand notes of governmental meetings, taxation policy and representational expenses as well as, to some extent, criminal statistics and judicial acts. This fact should be taken into consideration by CSO representatives, since they have just started working on the draft law of freedom of information;

  • Nowadays, there are only several cases when governmental data is accessible in open and structured formats. This fact impedes the level of openness and accessibility of the given public information.



Recommendations:

  • In order to increase the degree of openness of public information in Georgia, government has to develop several data sets. In particular, criminal statistics should be updated timely and given figures should be present according to the types of crimes. Additionally, establishment of crime map will ensure higher levels of transparency in this direction;

  • Apart from this, it is necessary to make all types of court decisions available for general public and the given data should be published in open format;

  • As for tax information, the Georgian Government should study international practice in this regard and develop international standards locally;

  • People should have more detailed description of archival documents and materials preserved in each archival funds throughout the country;

  • The list of proactively released information should be broadened and make it as detailed as possible. In particular, it is of vital importance to secure provision of particular information for each public officials and ministries. Such approach will secure higher level of transparency and accountability of governmental agencies through disseminating thorough information about their expenses;

  • The governmental agencies should not only develop new e-services but also should devote proper attention to advancement and improvement of the existing e-services and applications. Most importantly, for the purposes of re-usability of the governmental e-resources and data sets, they should be available in various open and structured formats that allow automated processing. Both formats (machine-readable and human-readable) should be present. Most importantly, public data should not be available only in the forms of scanned images. Instead, it should be provided in easily-processed formats, such as CSV, JSON or XML.