The Ukrainian Law on Access to Public Information came into force on May 9, 2011. Before this new law was adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament, international bodies had described the effective legislation as “confusing” and having overly broad exemptions.
Several international organizations, including OSCE and the Council of Europe, as well Article 19 and International Media Support (IMS) have repeatedly urged Ukraine to move forward with the adoption of the new Access to Public Information Law and provided expert support to the draft. The World Bank had not been directly involved in this process, but I participated in developing and promoting this law both as a media professional and a member of the Donor-Civil Society Working Group in Ukraine.
The new law contains several progressive provisions, including a broad definition of public information. It also holds information holders legally responsible, if they fail to publish their information. The legislation requires public bodies to promote open government and publish certain types of information without any individual request. The regime of limitations adequately limits non-disclosure only to situations in which the revelation of certain information could pose more harm than benefit to the public. Disclosure of information on wrongdoings or information concerning serious threats to people’s health and safety or to the environment are protected too.
The Law has been into effect for four months. The Ukrainian Independent Center for Political Research conducted an audit of the readiness of local government bodies for implementing the law and found that the majority of local authorities have already created special units that are responsible for providing information to the public. Government offices have allocated units to working with documents and started posting public inquires on the web. Looks like a success story?
At the end of the summer the Democratic Initiatives Foundation surveyed Ukrainians on how they used the opportunities provided by the Law. The vast majority of the respondents (52%) claimed to have heard nothing of the adoption of this law. 36.5% of Ukrainians “have heard something” about it. And only 10.6% have expressed some degree of familiarity with the main provisions of the Law.
In addition, 48% of Ukrainians expressed skepticism that this Law can make authorities more transparent and less corrupt. 78.3% of respondents never requested any public information as they did not expect to get it. They also do not plan to ask for public information in the future.
“The citizens received a unique instrument to control the authorities”, says, Sergiy Andrusko, a TV journalist. “I am very skeptical about this law,” says popular TV host Andriy Kulikov. “Even if people receive information they required that would not solve their problems as the whole system does not allow to do this.”
We in the donor community assume that the very fact of the existence of the law is essential for promoting good governance in Ukraine. But public disappointment with continued corruption and state capture has significantly eroded the social capital and undermined social trust. Both public apathy and low trust in the institutions prevent people from enjoying their rights event if they have been granted.
This is clearly a communications problem, which needs a communications strategy -- and the strategy needs to be implemented well. The Government has to solve this communication problem, although it does not have enough capacity. Here comes the international assistance.
In the meantime, this problem is even deeper, and not just related to this particular Law. The government has to rebuild overall public trust by strengthening accountability, eliminating corruption, showing openness, and pursuing consensus building prior to reform.
Photo Credit: Flickr user egenumbers