29 September 2020

18th International Right to Know DayAwards Ceremony – September 28, 2020

Access to Information Programme handed the annual awards for contributions in the field of freedom of information on the occasion of the International Right to Know Day.

The 2020 awards – both positive and negative – were given in 6 categories.


 
• Category "Citizen who has most actively used the Access to Public Information Act (APIA)"

The “Golden Key” award went to  

Dimitar Petzov from the town of Silistra for his long-standing persistence in using the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) to shed light on how the local administration spends taxpayers' money. This year his name became popular in the media after Petzov was detained by police officers who found an envelope with drugs in his car. The widely shared suspicion remains that this was a legally questionable response to the request for access to information that Petzov had filed (ATI request), asking questions about food and beverage donations made to the Police in Silistra by an anonymous donor. Petzov is the founder and administrator of a Facebook group called "Civil Control Silistra".

Two honorary diplomas went to

Sofia Klyuchkova from the town of Velingrad because despite her age of 78, she continues to exercise her right of access to information – she has been filing ATI requests since 2007 and has predominantly received the information she sought. Sofia got access to documents regarding the illegal construction of a two-storey restaurant in the “Kleptuza” Natural Park. She further insisted that the Prosecutor's Office repels the order of the Regional Directorate for Construction Control – the body which legalized the construction in the protected area in the first place.

Diana Boncheva from the town of Yambol for her activity as a long-term and persistent user of the APIA. Thanks to her ATI requests, the situation was clarified around forthcoming gold mining operations in the area of the of Bolyarovo and Elhovo municipalities.


• Category “NGO which has most actively exercised its access to information right“

The “Golden Key” award went to 

The team of the “Anti-Corruption Fund” Foundation for their hard work in investigating significant (and often sensitive) topics from Bulgarian public life. Some of their investigations even led to harassment of people from the organization's team. In the last two years, the ACF has filed more than 30 ATI requests and has led numerous lawsuits against institutions that had refused access to public information. The ACF led two lawsuits against the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency regarding animal carcass burning installations; one lawsuit against the Ministry of Energy, following the Ministry’s refusal of information on the transfer of cold reserve from one thermal power plant to another, the latter being owned by Ahmed Dogan (Dogan is the honorary chairman of a major political party that is notorious for its consistent backing of various Bulgarian governments since the fall of communism), ACF also had one lawsuit won against the Ministry of Health in connection with contracts for the delivery of Covid-19 masks and respirators. The contract was concluded between Bulgaria and China and were worth nearly have a billion euro.

The honorary diploma went to

Civic Association "BOEC" (“BOEC” meaning “fighter”, an abbreviation for “Bulgaria United with One Goal”) for their battle for access to information which they have won in four consecutive lawsuits: 1. against the Sofia City Prosecutor's Office for information about the work done by Ivan Geshev as a regular prosecutor (before he took the Prosecutor General’s position); 2. against the Specialized Prosecutor's Office regarding bonuses received by magistrates besides their monthly salaries; 3. against the Anti-Corruption Commission regarding the exact amount of funds withdrawn by the Commission (the request was filed after a commentary made by Bulgarian Prime Minister); 4. against the National Revenue Agency for information on written-off receivables, uncollected corporate tax and data related to the gambling business.


• Category "Best journalist story related to the access to information right"

The “Golden Key” award went to 

Mila Cherneva from the "Capital" newspaper for her active use of the APIA in her journalistic investigations and for the number of lawsuits led against institutional refusals. Cherneva won three lawsuits on public-wide discussed topics. The court ruled in favor of Cherneva in her lawsuit against the Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA), after the RIA refused to disclose data on the sale of online vignettes. The State Consolidation Company also lost a lawsuit regarding access to information in connection to an expenditure of half a billion levs on the maintenance and repair of dams. In a third ATI case, Sofia Municipality was obliged by the court to provide information on street repairs in six Sofia neighborhoods.

The honorary diploma went to 

Spas Spassov from “Dnevnik” online newspaper for his in-depth investigation into the case of the pollution of Varna Lake caused by a leaking wastewater pipeline. Spassov's materials provoked the civil reaction of the citizens of Varna. They demanded the Mayor’s resignation because he was hiding information about the broken pipeline for 9 months. Later, an inspection by the District Prosecutor's Office took place and a referral was sent to the European Commission.

• Сategory "Institution which has most efficiently organized the provision of public information"

The “Golden Key” award went to 

Zlatograd Municipality for their detailed monthly reports on the spending of budget funds as a sustainable practice since 2012. The Municipality is also an example in fulfilling the obligations for proactive publication of information, as well as for the lack of refusals to access information requests. In the recent years, the Municipality of Zlatograd has been in the top 10 among local government bodies in the Active Transparency Rating conducted annually by the AIP.

The honorary diploma went to 

Regional Health Inspectorate - Montana for this year's leading position the institution holds among the regional bodies of the executive branch according to the AIP 2020 Rating. RHI-Montana is an example of neatness in terms of the "Access to Information” section which is mandatory for each institutional website, as well as its thorough Internal Rules and the Covid-19 section. In 2020, no refusals of APIA requests have been issued by this public body.


• Category "Institution which does not fulfill its obligations under the APIA and violates citizens’ rights under the APIA"

The “Padlock” anti-award went to 

The Ministry of Justice for refusing to comply with a court decision under which it was obliged to provide access to the memos from the meetings held between Bulgarian judiciary and executive representatives with European Commission (EC) officials. The meetings were conducted between 2007 and 2018 and were related to the CVM - EC's Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, a monitoring procedure introduced after Bulgaria and Romania's adhesion to the EU. Under the scope of the CVM, both countries were monitored due their difficulties in combating corruption and organized crime. Instead of executing the court decision and providing the requested information, the Ministry of Justice issued yet another refusal based on grounds identical to those already revoked by the court.

The dishonorary diploma went to 

The Ministry of the Regional Directorate of the Ministry of Interior - Sofia City for refusing to answer to questions about police violence during protests against the government and the Prosecutor General, and in particular about the punishments received by law enforcement officials who used excessive physical force.


• Category “Most absurd and funniest administrative decision related to an access to information request”

The “Tied Key” anti-award went to 

Chief Inspector Teodora Tochkova and the Inspectorate at the Supreme Judicial Council (ISJC) for the fact that instead of abiding by the Administrative Court – City Sofia’s (ACSC) decision to disclose data on a particular case of public-wide interest, Chief Inspector Tochkova made an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court for annulment of the ACCG's decision. (The so called “TSUM-Gate affair” was a scandalous case related to a meeting between former Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov, gas sector businessman and newspaper publisher Sasho Donchev and businessman and ex-chair of Bulgarian Socialist Party Georgi Gergov. The ISJC had to disclose information on its checks made in relation to this meeting). Tochkova made the aforementioned appeal on the grounds that the case was heard in two court hearings without a representative of the ISJC. Actually, the case was delayed twice due to ISJC's fault – the first time due to the leave of a legal adviser who had to look after their child at home during the Covid-19 lockdown, and the second time because two legal advisers were working from home on the exact day of the hearing.

The ceremony was held online for the first time, with the participation of 60 citizens, journalists, representatives of civil society organizations and government institutions.




The Access to Information Forum project is implemented with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. 

The main objective of the Access to Information Forum project is to improve the transparency and accountability of public institutions. Click here to visit the project's webpage.