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)
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.