The RA Law on Freedom of Information operates since 2003. “It was a major achievement especially for the journalists so that they are able to obtain information, which formerly for some reasons some officials tried to keep as secret,” Shushan Doydoyan, President of the Freedom of Information Center said.
The existence of the law changed many things and not only in the sphere of journalism. Mrs. Doydoyan is of the opinion that the officials changed their work style and thinking that the information was their property, “Information is a public property. Although there are officials who do not think so, but some progress in this terms is recorded.”
Shushan Doydoyan remembers that a few years ago the 5-day period for responding to the request provided by law ranged till 15 days now it varies between 10-11 days. Despite the fact that the law is not completely perceived, nevertheless there is still progress. One of the important things was the formation of judicial practice. Different NGOs have initiated more than 60 court cases for providing inadequate information or failure to provide information. Freedom of Information Center has initiated 45 court cases, and in 3 cases the official was called to administrative responsibility (these cases are: FOICA against the Office of Realization of Construction and investments programs of Yerevan” SNCO; FOICA against the Village Head and Village administration of Yelpin). Shushan Doydoyan believes that the courts should have the courage and are not afraid to charge money from the state agencies. “When we apply to the courts, our demands are met in part: requirement to obtain information is satisfied, but not the requirement to administrative sanctions against the official. When the officer sees that his pocket is touched, he will think longer before refusing the request of information.”
However the law has omissions as well and these omissions often cause problems for the journalists as well as for the citizens. Some requirements of the law are not fulfilled, some contradict to other legal acts. In order to obtain information from the State Cadastre or from the National Archive it is necessary to pay from 3000 up to 10.000AMD. Whereas the RA Law on Freedom of Information provides that information up to 10 pages should be provided free of charge.
“This is a serious problem, which should be regulated by the reforms in the legal sphere,” According to Shushan Doydoyan, the structures that provide information for money cannot be deprived of their financial source.
There were discussions on this problem in the past. In 2013 the Ministry of Justice submitted the revised draft law to the national assembly, but it stayed on the paper. Another open and painful problem is providing information electronically, but this sphere is not regulated by law at all. Mrs. Doydoyan said that the official who did not want to provide information simply denied it making a reference to the law. But in another case the official provides information, “If they want the legislative gap is not a hindering problem, but if they do not want to provide information they built their reasoning based on this gap.” In parallel to the desire not to provide information there is another reason as well, which is ignorance of the law. Some officials confuse the requests with applications. It is encouraging that the number of such officials is decreasing.
Shushan Doydoyan says that the government had made suggestions to review and to reform the law. The process is now frozen, but she is confident that the agreements will be fulfilled. “The most important thing is that there is willingness by the government, and we in turn will do all possible to renew the process and to solve the problem.”