Why Ukraine needs Freedom of Information Commissioner

In recent   years   we   have   witnessed fundamental changes in Ukraine when it comes   to   the  desire   of   citizens   to   have   a   voice   in   the   decision­making   process, be it nationally or locally. However,   this   new   trend   towards   democratization is meeting   resistance – a  resistance   to   change   –   particularly   in   the   Ukrainian   public   sector.   But   the   public   sector  requires   reforms   that   are   created   and   designed   together   with   the   citizens   who   are   going   to be   affected   by   those   reforms.   This   creates   an   entirely   new   way   in   which   central   and   local  governments in Ukraine engage with their citizens, but one with challenges.
According   to   the   2015   rankings   of   World   Justice   Project   (WJP)   Open   Government   Index Ukraine   is   ranked   43?rd   out   of   102   (1)   on   its   government   openness.   The   index   calculated on   4   main   comparative   criteria:   1)   publicized   laws   and   government   data   2)   right   to  information   3)   civic   participation   and   4)   complaint   mechanisms.   First   3   criteria   of   the  index   put   Ukraine   in   the   top   of   the   Eastern   Europe   region   rankings,   but   it   is   the   problem with   existing   complaint   mechanism   that   gives   Ukraine   a   low   score   of   74,   which   has   to   be  addressed.   Currently   complaints   on   government   openness   are   handled   by   the   office   of   the  ombudsman   for   the   protection   of   human   rights,   which   is   clearly   not   sufficient   and   to  Diya’s   opinion   should   be   improved   with   a   set   up   of   separate   government   office   of  Freedom   of   Information   (FOI)   Commissioner   of   Ukraine.   Such   government   offices   exist  already   in   the   most   of   the   Western   world   countries   plus   emerging   economies   bringing significant improvements in government openness. (2)

Index Ukraine

It is   essential   for   public   entities   of   Ukraine   to   grant   anyone   that   is   interested   access   to  public   information,   without   the   need   for   addressing   the   time­consuming   and   costly procedures   of   appeal   cases   to   courts.   Moreover   the   full   implementation   of   the   provisions  on   proactive   disclosure   of   public   information   is   highly   important.   Public   entities   should  have   a   uniform   approach   to   disclosing   information.   Most   importantly,   a   higher   standard  of   access   to   public   information   should   be   guaranteed   by   adopting   the   new   Law   on   Access  to Public Information and by the establishment of the Office of the FOI Commissioner.

The   main   role   of   FOI   Commissioner   of   Ukraine   should   be   upholding   information   rights  in   the   public   interest   and   to   avoid   any   conflict   of   interest   such   public   official   should   be  appointed and reporting directly to the Parliament of Ukraine.  FOI   Commissioner   of   Ukraine   should   promote   and   enforce   both   the   public’s   right   to   ask  for   the   information   held   by   Ukrainian   public   authorities, and   good   practice   by   authorities.  

Through   this   work   the   commissioner   will   support   the   openness,   transparency   and  accountability   of   public   bodies.   The   Commissioner   strategic   aims   should   be   improving access to information through the following activities:

1. Enabling and supporting Ukrainian public authorities to develop and maintain high standards of FOI policy and practice through a combination of regulation, advice and assistance, and appropriate collaboration.
2. Influencing positive cultural change in Ukrainian public authorities' approaches to meeting their FOI duties.
3. Encouraging effective and responsible use of FOI rights by a range of stakeholders through support, education and promotion.
4. Influencing and supporting the development of Ukrainian information law and policy to ensure it remains fit for purpose and enables effective communications.

Local   public   authorities   of   Ukraine   should   also   play   an   active   role   in   promoting   open  government,   as   they   are   closer   to   their   citizens.   Local   municipalities   and   cities   can   adopt  open   government   principles   and   become   more   engaged   with   the   people.   Open  government   philosophy   should   be   embedded   in   the   education   system,   thus   preparing citizens   who   are   able   to   make   informed   decisions   and   choices,   and   who   are   capable   of  distinguishing   between   a   government   that   will   keep   its   promises   and   those   who   are   just  making promises.  
The   government   agenda   needs   to   be   cross­sectoral,   with   all   ministries   and   central   public  authorities   operating   based   on   the   principles   of   open   government.   This   should   stimulate  more   innovation   and,   as   a   result,   sectors   –   be   they   education,   health,   environment   or  roads – will become more competitive.  
It   is   an   open   government   that   will   consolidate   the   capacity   of   its   citizens   to   become   more  open­minded   and   more   open   towards   change   –   exactly   the   kind   of   citizens   Ukraine   needs today.   The FOI Commissioner   of   Ukraine   should   aim   to   be   a   "value­adding"  commissioner in Ukraine:

  • where people are familiar with their rights to access information and exercise them knowledgeably and responsibly
  • where those delivering public functions disseminate and disclose information willingly and openly
  • where access to information is a result of open dialogue and communication that enables both the exercise of rights to information and the delivery of statutory functions
  • which is recognized and respected internationally as a world­leader in access to information law, policy and practice.

1. http://data.worldjusticeproject.org/opengov/#/groups/UKR
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Commissioner