For the fourth successive year Access to Information Programme organized the Right to Know Awards Ceremony in Bulgaria.
Around 150 people attended the 2006 Right to Know Awards Ceremony that AIP held in the National Press club at the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency. Posters were disseminated in Sofia and the countryside through AIP's coordinators network. Press releases were sent to national and regional media. The event was broadcast live on Internet. Cups, pins, pens, T-shirts, FOIANet leaflets, and the AIP's FOI Newsletter dedicated to the Right to Know Day were distributed among all the participants of the ceremony. Special guests of the Right to Know Day ceremony were Mr. Nikolay Vasilev, Minister of State Administration and Administrative Reform, Ms. Carmen Gonsalves, a counsellor at the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Bulgaria, and Mr. Neil Buhne, the UN Resident Coordinator in Bulgaria.
Positive awards for achievements and negative awards for "mischievements" in the FOI area were given in seven categories.
1. Citizen, who has most actively used the APIA
A "Golden Key" award was given to a citizen, who had submitted 36 requests to authorities of all levels of power. Mr. William Popov uses the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) to obtain information from the President, to the Prime Minister, to different ministers and mayors. He uses this strategy to test the level of democratization of Bulgarian institutions since he believes that granting access to information is the strongest indicator for that. Mr. Popov has also represented successfully himself in FOI court cases.
Honorary Diplomas were given to:
- Mr. Plamen Simeonov for using the APIA in his search for information from the Chief Prosecutor’s Office;
- Mr. Anton Gerdjikov for using the APIA in his search for information from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and to
- Ms. Desislava Rayanova for her persistent search for information about people with multiple sclerosis.
2. Best journalist story/campaign/publication related to the access to information right
The "Golden Key" for the best news story based on the use of the APIA went to the journalist Genka Shikerova from the national "bTV." Her investigation revealed violations at the distribution of municipal estate property at the seacoast town of Nesebar. The mayor had given construction permits under a housing program for indigent people to individuals who did not meet the requirements. With the assistance of AIP, Genka Shikerova submitted a complaint to the Bourgas Regional Court against the refusal of the mayor to provide access to the mayor's orders concerning the municipal land distribution.
Honorary Diplomas were given to:
- Katrin Binbashieva from "TV7" for her investigation about illegal construction around the Iskar Dam - the main drinking-water source of Sofia; and to
- Alexenia Dimitrova from "24 Hours" daily for her efficient use of American and Bulgarian FOI laws for a number of media publications, as well as the book "The War of the Spies."
3. Non-governmental organization, which has most actively exersized its access to information right
The Environmental Association "For the Earth", a member of the CEE Bankwatch Network, was presented with the "Golden Key" for its persistent and fruitful searches of information using the APIA. For the Earth representative Ivaylo Hlebarov received the award.
"For the Earth" demanded environmental information about national construction projects, financed by the ISPA program, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. They started court proceedings with the help of AIP in cases of refusals and ran parallel public campaigns.
"Center for NGOs-Razgrad" and Environmental Association "Green Balkans" - Plovdiv were the two NGOs bestowed with Honorary Diplomas for their fruitful use of the APIA.
4. Institution, which has most efficiently organized the provision of public information
The fourth positive award was presented by Nikolay Vassilvev, Minister of State Administration and Administrative Reform to the institution that has best organized its activities to supply information to the public.
The 2006 "Golden Key" in that category went to the Public Financial Inspection Agency (PFIA), the successor of the Public Internal Financial Control Agency (PIFCA). PIFCA walked all the way from a dark and nontransparent institution to the winner of the Right to Know award by adopting internal rules for access to information provision and changing its practices towards greater transparency and respect of the public right to know. The award was presented by the Minister of State Administration and Administrative Reform Nikolay Vasilev.
Recipients of Honorary Diplomas in the category were:
- Basin Directorate in Plovdiv,
- Regional Governor of Veliko Tarnovo, and
- Municipality of Tundja.
5. Best web-site of an institution with regard to the Access to Public Information Act
The 2006 receiver of the "Golden Key" in that category was the small Municipality of Straldja, which managed to develop and maintain its own website, improving their communication with the local population and consequently the work of the municipality administration. Mitko Andonov, the mayor of Straldja (left) acepted the award.
Honorary Diplomas for FOI friendly web sites were given to:
- Basin Directorate of Blagoevgrad: http://www.wabd.bg/ and
- Municipality of Sliven: http://www.sliven.bg/
As in the three preceding ceremonies, negative awards were given to these institutions, which did not fulfil their obligations under the APIA and violate people's right to know.
The 2006 "Padlock" went to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests for refusing information about the process of exchange of state estate property with attractive seacoast lands, which were sold at low costs to private individuals. The Ministry also refused to provide the documents related to the restitution of former Prime Minister's lands in the Rila Mountain, as well as blueprints of estates which, according to the requestors, were illegally given to the "Bobov dol" Mines.
This year the Right to Know Award Committee decided to present Dishonorary Diplomas to two other institutions, which violated the right to know.
The National Health Insurance Fund was "dishonored" for being the most often sued institution and for nonconformity with court decisions against refusals of information. NHIF was awarded with the "Padlock" once (in 2004) but it not only failed to improve its practices but worsened them instead. As a result of not announcing decisions of the NHIF Board, patients under
The other "dishonored" institution was the mayor of the town of Nesebar for not providing documents, which might have revealed misappropriation with municipal estates.different programs of free treatment suffered financial damages.
The "Tied Key" for the most absurd and/or funniest administrative FOI decision went to the Ministry of Justice for their inability to develop and apply internal rules for the provision of information about funding NGOs with money from the state budget.
The organization and celebration of the 2006 Right to Know Day in Bulgaria was possible thanks to the financial support of the US Department of State, UNDP for Bulgaria, and MATRA Programme of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Soft and Publishing CIELA," "Zagorka JSC", and "Damianitza JSC" kindly contributed to the celebration of the Right to Know Day.