Bulgarian Court Repealed the Refusal of the Government to Provide Access to Contracts with Microsofts 02.11.2007
In a decision, as of November 2, 2007, a panel of the Sofia City Court repealed the refusal of the Director of the Government Information Service (GIS) to provide access to information to the journalist from Capital weekly, Rosen Bosev. He requested information about the conditions under which the former minister of state administration, Mr. Dimitar Kalchev, signed a contract with Microsoft Company for the purchase of software licenses for the needs of the state administration, as well as a copy of the document itself.
The proceedings, initiated by the Editor in Chief of Noroden Glas (People’s Voice) newspaper at the town of Lovech, against the refusal of the mayor of the town to provide information, were stayed for the third time. According to the mayor, the requested information about the amount paid by the municipality for announcements in four media was protected data of the third parties. During the proceedings, it turned out that the representatives of the municipality did not know who was contacted in terms of these announcements and to whom the public money was paid after all. Two court sessions were necessary to clear out that issue. The Administrative Court in Lovech took the legal measure to sanction the municipal legal officer for not complying with court instructions within the time frames. At the last session, it turned out that the municipality had not signed contracts with the four media, which had dissented the provision of information about the amount of money they were paid from the budget. The pleadings of the parties will be heard on December 4, 2007. The case is supported by AIP.
The Sofia City Court shall decide within a month on the complaint of the Bulgarian Media Coalition against a refusal of the Council for Electronic Media (CEM). The CEM refused access to the discussions, which had led to the adoption of methods and evaluation criteria for applicants for radio and television licenses. According to the Council, the requested information was preparatory and included opinions of its members, which gave grounds for refusal under Art. 13, Para. 2, item 1 of the APIA. The Council also refused access to the application forms on the ground of trade secret. Since the CEM is a body with public functions and its sessions shall be public pursuant to the Radio and Television Law, the quoted exemption to the right of access is inapplicable. Unfilled application documents may not be anyone’s trade secret, according to the legal team of AIP.
Does the society have the right to know about the findings in the President’s report on the Petrolgate case? The answer of that question will become clear with the decision of the Sofia City Court on the case of Politika newspaper journalist Zoya Dimitrova. In 2006, the Supreme Administrative Court returned the file of the case for reconsideration to the first instance after giving explicit instructions for a review of the lawfulness of the classification of the report as state secret. The evidence collected showed that classification stamps were put, but they did not prove the grounds for the classification. An impression remained that the report, prepared by the secret services, did not contain the alleged secret data about the means for information collection, but findings of public interest. The report was prepared at the request of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria as a reaction to publications in an Arab newspaper about the trade involvement of Bulgarian companies, close to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, with Saddam Hussein’s regime in violation with the UN imposed embargo. A court decision shall be delivered till the end of November.
With a decision as of October 2007, the Administrative Court in Yambol repealed the tacit refusal of the Mayor of Yambol. Three times during the year, the Mayor of the Municipality of Yambol had instructed the journalist Diana Boncheva from the local newspaper Tundza to particularize her request for access to information. The journalist particularized two times that she wanted access to the documents related to the presence of the mayor at his working place for a certain period of time. After the third “misunderstanding” of the request, the refusal of the mayor was challenged in the court. The court repealed the tacit refusal as an unacceptable legal phenomenon.
On October 11, 2007, the Sofia City Court reviewed the complaint of Mr. Ivailo Hlebarov from the Environmental Association For the Earth against the refusal of the Ministry of Environment and Waters to provide documents under the ISPA Program of the European Union. Among the requested documents were the application forms, reports from the researches, the cost-and-benefit analyses, and the financial memoranda of the approved projects. According to the grounds stated by the ministry, the majority of those documents may not be provided since some of the tender procedures had not been completed. The complainant, as well as his legal representative Alexander Kashumov from AIP, emphasized the ambiguity of the argument. On one hand, the necessity for maximum transparency of the infrastructure projects, financed from the EU funds, is undoubted (including highways, the Vidin-Kalafat Bridge, Airport Sofia, etc). On the other hand, the submitted documents regarding already approved projects under the ISPA have no relation to following tender procedures. The court shall deliver a decision within 30 days.
On September 20, 2007, a panel of the Administrative Court, Sofia, heard and scheduled for judgment a case against the refusal of the Director of the Government Information Services (GIS) to provide information about the repair works in the office of the Prime Minister in 2007. The refusal was issued in June 2007 after the request of the journalist Pavlina Trifonova from 24 Hours daily newspaper. As a response to her request, she received a letter from the Director of the GIS, which informed her that the repair works had been completed after signing a contract with the winner in a tender procedure under the Regulation for Assigning Special Public Procurements. The letter also contained scarce information on some of the requested points. With regard to the overall expenses of the repair works, the bids of the competing companies, as well as the price of each item bought in terms of the repair works, the Director of the GIS refused information on the grounds of Art. 37, Para. 2 of the Access to Public Information Act claiming that the information would have affected the interests of third parties and that they had not expressed their written consent for the provision of information. Besides, according to the Director of the GIS, the participants in the tender procedure for the assignment of the special public procurement had pointed out that part of the information in the bid was confidential. A court decision shall be delivered within 30 days.
Supreme Administrative Court upheld a previous court decision which had repealed the refusal of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency about the incident in the Nuclear Power Plant “Kozlodui” 02.07.2007
On July 2, 2007, a Five-member panel of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) upheld a previous court decision which had repealed the refusal of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to provide information about the March 1, 2006 incident in the Nuclear Power Plant “Kozlodui.”
Three-member panel of the SAC upheld the right of the journalist from bTV, Genka Shikerova, to obtain access to requested documents 28.06.2007
In a final decision, as of June 28 2007, a Three-member panel of the SAC upheld the right of the journalist from bTV, Genka Shikerova, to obtain access to requested documents.
The journalist started court proceedings against the refusal of the Mayor of the Municipality of Nesebar to provide access to orders about transference of property rights and granting of construction rights to people in need. Journalistic investigation revealed that state officials and people from the judicial power in the region were among “the indigent.” The reason for the submission of the request by the journalist was her interest in the particular grounds on which those people were defined as having housing needs. The Mayor did not respond within the legally prescribed time frames. However, in a belated decision, he motivated a refusal with the protection of third parties’ personal data. In November 2006, the Regional Court of Burgas repealed the refusal as illegal. A three-member panel of the SAC upheld the decision of the first instance, rejecting the argument of the appellant – the Municipality of Nesebar – that the journalist had requested the same information twice. The judges stated that if the institution had not provided information at a request the first time it was submitted, the institution did not have the right to claim that it had responded to the same request within the last six months. AIP provided legal help during the litigation. At the 2006 Right to Know Day Awards Ceremony, Genka Shikerova was given the “Golden Key” Award in the category of a journalist who had most actively used the Access to Public Information Act.
The Supreme Administrative Court upheld the decision of the Sofia City Court which had repealed the tacit refusal of the Director of the National Intelligence Services 11.06.2007
In its decision, as of June 11, 2007, the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) upheld the decision of the Sofia City Court (SCC) which had repealed the tacit refusal of the Director of the National Intelligence Services (NIS) to provide journalist Hristo Hristov access to documents related the murder of the Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov.
Bulgarian National Assembly passed the amendments to the Access to Public Information Act 07.06.2007
June 7, 2007: Bulgarian National Assembly passed the amendments to the Access to Public Information Act, which have been broadly discussed within the last three months. Access to Information Programme (AIP) has opposed the amendments since they were introduced in February 2007 due to their apparent contradiction to fundamental FOI standards.
In May 28, 2007, Access to Information Programme (AIP) presented its Annual Report Access to Information in Bulgaria 2006 at a pres conference held in the Bulgarian News Agency.
May 21, 2007: 68 Sign Protest Letter Against Bulgarian FOI Amendments
A letter calling on members of the Bulgarian National Assembly not to pass proposed amendments which would substantially weaken the national system for access to information was endorsed by 68 organisations and individuals from around the world. The letter, drafted by ARTICLE 19, was sent to Bulgarian legislators earlier today. Read the full text of the letter (Acrobat Reader 90Kb ) and the press release of AIP from May 16, 2007.
On 27nd April 2007 in Veliko Turnovo Access to Information Program held a one-day discussion on active provision of information, particularly publication of information on institutional web sites, with local and regional government officials from the Regions of Veliko Tarnovo, Pleven, Gabrovo and Lovech within the project Increasing Government Transparency and Accountability through Electronic Access to Information, financed by the UNDP Democratic Governance Trust Fund (DGTF).
AIP organized a second round table Advocacy for Free Access to Information in Veliko Turnovo 26.04.2007
On 26nd April 2007 in Veliko Turnovo, Access to Information Program organized a second round table Advocacy for Free Access to Information.
On 23nd March 2007 in Montana Access to Information Program held a one-day discussion on active provision of information, particularly publication of information on institutional web sites, with local and regional government officials from the Regions of Montana, Vidin, and Vratsa within the project Increasing Government Transparency and Accountability through Electronic Access to Information, financed by the UNDP Democratic Governance Trust Fund (DGTF).
On 22nd March 2007 in Vidin Access to Information Program held a round table Advocacy for Free Access to Information with representatives of NGOs and media, as part the implementation of the project Strengthening NGOs in Their Search for Public Information, financed by PHARE Programme – 2004 Civil Society Development.
Three-member panel of the Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court repealed a refusal of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency 02.02.2007
On February 2, 2007 a three-member panel of the Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court repealed a refusal of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA).
The National Movement Ekoglasnost, had filed an information request for the report and its annexes on the fifth block incident in the Nuclear Power Plant Kozlodui on March 1, 2006. The reports were disclosed, but the annexes to were refused on the grounds that the third party - the nuclear power plant itself - did not consent on the disclosure of the information. Access to Information Programme provided legal assistance to the complainant. In its decision, the judges found that it unclear why NRA presumed that legitimate interests of the NPP Kozlodui were to be affected and asked for their consent. According to the justices, the annexes contained data about the investigation just like the reports. That is why, it could not be presumed that the annexes contained any legally protected information.The Supreme Administrative Court turned the file back to the Agency for reconsideration and obligated it to comply with the Environmental Protection Act, which requires that institutions should consider the public interest when deciding whether to provide access to environmental information.