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Bulgarian Parliament Willing to Ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents


Chairperson of Bulgarian National Assembly addresses the participants in the conference. Photo: Marieta Tomova

To mark ten years of the adoption of the Bulgarian Access to Public Information Act (APIA), Access to Information Programme organized a conference on July 26, 2010. The conference was held in Sofia under the auspices of the Chairperson of the Bulgarian National Assembly Ms. Tsetska Tsacheva.

The purpose of the conference was to discuss possibilities of Bulgaria’s accession to the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents on the base of ten years experience of the Access to Public Information Act implementation. Bulgarian APIA is in act since July 7, 2000.

More than 80 representatives of state authorities, MPs, judiciary, media, NGOs, and foreign embassies attended the event. Among the guests were the Chairperson of the Supreme Administrative Court, Mr. Konstantin Penchev; the Chairperson of the Commission for Personal Data Protection, Ms. Veneta Shopova; the Chairperson of the parliamentary Culture, Civil society and Media Committee, Ms. Daniela Petrova; the Chairperson of the Dossier Committee, Mr. Evtim Kostadinov; the Head of the State Administration Department at the Council of Ministers, Mr. Dimitar Ivanov, the department in charge for the preparation of the annual report on the APIA implementation by the executive bodies.

“It is unusual to mark the anniversary of a law. The adoption of the constitutions is usually celebrated. However, all bodies which have obligations under the Access to Public Information Act and everybody who has filed requests under the law know that it provides for the exercise of a constitutional right. Recognition of the importance of this right has brought us together today.” With these words, Gergana Jouleva, AIP Executive Director, opened the conference.

“With the adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents, the first international binding treaty, the recognition of the right of access to information goes beyond national constitutions and laws and spreads internationally as a fundamental value to the member-states of the Council of Europe,” Jouleva pointed out.

In her address to the participants, the Chairperson of the Bulgarian National Assembly, Ms. Tsetska Tsacheva expressed the willingness of the National Assembly to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents. “Thus, Bulgaria will join the states which unconditionally embrace the principle of transparency of public institutions,” she emphasized.

Mr. Dimitar Ivanov, Head of the State Administration Department at the Council of Ministers, presented the results from the 2009 annual report on the state of the administration with regard to the APIA implementation. For the first time since the adoption of the APIA, a representative of the body responsible for the implementation of the law presents the results of the APIA implementation at such a forum.


Dimitar Ivanov presents the results form the 2009 annual report on APIA implementation

“Active search for information shows people’s confidence in participating in the decision making process. The number of filed requests, the appeals of the denials and the litigation changes the implementation practices and pushes the administration to improve the mechanisms for information provision, especially for active disclosure,” Dimitar Ivanov pointed out.

In 2009, the total number of requests for access to public information filed to the executive bodies is 24, 694. The most active group of requestors are the citizens. They have filed 57% out of all requests, followed by the journalists – 30%, business – 9%, and NGOs – 3.5%.

The number of denials issued by the executive bodies on access to information requests in 2009 is 247. Seventy-five requests were left without consideration on the base of grounds like missing description of the requested information or contact information.

The 2008 APIA amendments established the obligation for the administration to balance the public interest in disclosure against other protected interests as stipulated by the law. In 2009, the first year of implementation of this obligation, 3.1% of the decisions for disclosure were taken in consideration of the overriding public interest.

In 2009, 71.6 % of the executive bodies have had their APIA implementation rules.

The Chairperson of the Supreme Administrative Court, Mr. Konstantin Penchev, made an overview of the access to information litigation. The Supreme Administrative Court has heard 487 access to information cases for the past ten years. The court has decided on questions regarding who has the right of access to information, who are the obliged bodies, and what the limits of the trade secret exemption are with regard to government contracts. The 2008 amendments to the APIA introduced the principle of the overriding public interest which would facilitate the disclosure of information even if it contains trade secret.

The Head of AIP Legal Team, Alexander Kashumov, presented the 2008 amendments to the APIA which introduced an extended scope of obliged bodies by including the regional offices of the central authorities and bodies financed under EU programs and funds; the obligation for the provision of partial access to information; the obligation for proactive publication of information online; and the public interest test.

Gergana Jouleva, AIP Executive Director, presented the principles set forth by the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents.

The Chairpersons of the Commission for Personal Data Protection, the parliamentary Culture, Civil Society and Media Committee, and the Dossier Committee expressed their special greetings to AIP, and all the participants in the conference.

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Milen Lyutskanov, sent an official statement with regard to the signing and ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents by Bulgaria.

“Our opinion is that there are no obstacles for Bulgaria to sign and ratify the Convention. In all cases, we have to do that to demonstrate a political will to implement the principle of openness and transparency in the government administration. In connection to the above mentioned, we think that before the initiation of the procedure for accession to the Convention, an oversight body shall be signified. Our opinion is that the Council of Ministers is that body1…. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should support and participate in this initiative but it should be started by the body obliged for the implementation,” the statement said.

All participants in the conference had the AIP unofficial translation of the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents and its Explanatory Report, as well as the consistency report between the Bulgarian legislation and the Convention, also prepared by AIP.2

 

1. After the 2009 parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, the new government closed the Ministry of State Administration and Administrative Reform which was responsible for the overview of the APIA implementation by the executive bodies. Now, this function is overtaken by the Council of Ministers.

2. The consistency report between the Bulgarian legislation on access to information and the Convention on Access to Official Documents was made by AIP in the framework of the Public Awareness Campaign on New Standards in the Access to Information Area, supported by a grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Financial Mechanism (The NGO Fund – Bulgaria 2008-2010; Contract No.ĎÎ3-20-00). Since the beginning of 2010, the Convention was presented to more than 1,000 representatives of administration, NGOs, journalists, and local leaders who participated in the public discussions, organized by AIP in 22 regional cities in Bulgaria.

 

 


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English Version • Last Update: 29.07.2010 • © 1999 Copyright by Interia & AIP