Making Freedom of Information a Reality in Georgia
By Vakhtang Natsvlishvili
In 2011, eight countries—Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States—launched the Open Government Partnership. This worldwide initiative is aimed at securing concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
Freedom of information has made great strides in the country of Georgia over the last two and half years. Since joining the Open Government Partnership in 2011, civil society organizations in Georgia have successfully advocated for government agencies to proactively publish information in a way that is accessible to anyone, and establish an electronic request system for information.
These changes have not gone unnoticed.
Georgia was shortlisted for the 2013 Open Government Partnership’s Bright Spots prize—an award showcasing inspiring examples of how open and accountable government can change people’s lives. The prize ultimately went to the Philippines, but Georgia’s endeavors drew the attention of President Barack Obama, who in a letter to the country’s newly elected president Giorgi Margvelashvili, noted that the country “is making significant progress in consolidating democratic institutions, including through its commitments under the Open Government Partnership.”
From the very beginning, the Open Society Georgia Foundation and its partner organizations—the Institute for Development Freedom of Information, Young Georgian Lawyers Association, Transparency International–Georgia, and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center—provided recommendations on best practices for freedom of information legislation. Our goal was to work cooperatively with the government while at the same time engaging in constructive discourse.
As a result, public information—including, priorities, strategies, policy documents and implementation of action plans, staff, budget, public procurement and privatization of public property—must now be proactively disclosed. In addition, the right to file electronic requests for public information, along with enforcement mechanisms, has been codified into law.
This achievement marks substantial progress for Georgia towards launching Open Government laws and policies and introducing mechanisms for accountability and transparency. We hope this will inspire citizens not only in Georgia, but also in other post-Soviet countries, who may not have clear or accurate information on the activities undertaken by government officials and entities. The Open Society Georgia Foundation will now begin working on full-scale reform to the country's Freedom of Information Legislation, which will establish completely new, European standards for freedom of information.
Vakhtang (Vako) Natsvlishvili is Human Rights and Good Governance Program coordinator at the Open Society Georgia Foundation.