Suren Krmoyan, RA Deputy Minister of Justice, Lusine Sargsyan, Head of Department for Legal Analysis of Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia, Liana Doydoyan, President of “Freedom of Information Center of Armenia”, Ashot Melikyan, Chairman of Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, participated in the discussion.
Suren Krmoyan said that the amendments to “Law on Freedom of Information”were launched 2,5 years ago and the idea emerged during different meetings with the civil society.
Krmoyan emphasized the importance of the improvement of the transparency in the state sector as an outcome of amendments which is observed in the logic of anticorruption tools.
“We added state organizations among information holders as the state organizations were left out the regulation of law. Second, the community institutions and organizations are also involved: schools, kindergartens, water supply facilities, sewerage that are under community supervision. We, as information holders, brought the state institutions and community organizations in law regulatory framework,” Krmoyan said.
He stressed that the draft law also clarified the concepts of oral and written requests and the written request was emphasized in law.
The legislative changes also intend to establish a public information platform.
“An electronic platform will be established where citizens can submit a request via the Internet and get a response without delays, and the process will be controllable, the citizen can receive information in normal terms. If a citizen does not find out which agency to apply, then the operator will precede itself will find the relevant agency and send the request to it,” the deputy minister said.
The Ministry of Justice has set a deadline of two months for the civil society to present their proposals and objections relating to the provisions of the draft and to put on the table for discussion.
The new bill also provides for major innovation: the establishment of the Ombudsman affiliated Information Freedom Council.
“We try to develop extra-judicial mechanisms. As the civil society said that there is a need for introducing the provisions, the government gave a two-month period. Our goal is that this project is based on consensus and approved by civil society,” Krmoyan concluded.
Liana Doydoyan said that the most important issue is to have an extra-judicial body as the experience showed during the years that even the provisions of the acting law are not applied.
“The most important thing for us is strengthening accountability mechanisms. Studying the experience of the leading countries in which the institution of the Commissioner for freedom of information operates, we have proposed that we have a separate independent body authorized to make decisions. It will not just be a recommending body but it can make extra-judicial decisions. In the case of this project, that problem is not solved and if the rights are violated it is necessary to go to court again,” Doydoyan said.
She added that the Ombudsman already had the authority to do such a study, to compose and send conclusions: “The Ombudsman can still do those things today.”
Ashot Melikyan also said that what this draft stipulates the Ombudsman office can fulfill without the establishment of that council.
“There is no need of this. Another question is whether he can go to court or not simultaneously. In addition, it is unknown how long the council will act, how many people will be involved? But I think this article should not be involved. The judicial practice which has developed over the last 14 years shows that it is quite effective, and the law clearly stipulates that the courts usually satisfy the plaintiffs. There are years when there are more than 80 positive responses,” Melikyan said.
Addressing the raised concerns of the civil society representatives, Lusine Sargsyan said that if there a model is introduced that essentially repeats all the functions and powers, which the Ombudsman has, a problem will occur with the Constitution and in terms of exercising the right to apply to the Ombudsman.
“The Ombudsman submitted a proposal starting from the concept that the competent authority should not repeat the Ombudsman's functions, should not exercise the same powers. Referring to the draft regulations in place, I must mention that the Ombudsman exercises these functions. We are examining the complaints about freedom of information. In 2015, we investigated 51 complaints, in 2016 - 48 complaints. Another issue is if the council is drawn from NGOs and professional experts, and it can assist in specialized matters. The Council can show the support necessary for the Ombudsman to investigate the complaints perhaps more deeply,” Sargsyan added.
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Lilit Arakelyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”
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