For the fifth successive year, Access to Information Programme organized the Right to Know Day Awards Ceremony in Bulgaria
Around 100 people attended the 2007 Right to Know Awards Ceremony that AIP held in the National Press Club at the Bulgarian News Agency. As in preceding years, the preparation of the 2007 RKD included dissemination of posters and FOIAnet leaflets in Sofia and the countryside through AIP's coordinators network. AIP coordinators, all of them journalists, realized a number of publications at local and regional media to promote the right of access to information and to announce the forthcoming International Right to Know Day.
The August issue of the Monthly FOI Newsletter, which AIP disseminates electronically to around 1100 subscribers, focused on the 2006 Awards Ceremony in Bulgaria and the campaign for a stronger future Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents. The Newsletter (in Bulgarian) is accessible at: http://www.aip-bg.org/bulletin_bg.htm.
The Awards Ceremony was broadcast live on the Internet on September 28. Promotion T-shirts, caps, pins, pens, and notebooks were distributed among all the participants of the ceremony.
The 2007 RKD Awards Committee had to select the winners from more than 50 nominations, received through AIP web site, through e-mail, from AIP coordinators, and from the members of the Awards Committee themselves. In 2007, for the first time, former RKD awardees took part in the selection committee.
Positive awards for achievements and negative awards for "mischievements" in the FOI area acknowledged the biggest contributors and the violators of the right of access to information:
1. Citizen, who has most actively used the APIA
A "Golden Key" award was given to Mr. Rosko Simov – a citizen who had used the Access to Public Information Act to seek information of high public interest. The citizen won a court case against a refusal of the mayor of the town of Shumen to provide a contract signed between the municipality and a private company. Besides the decision in favor of the requestor, the Regional Court of Shumen explicitly obligated the mayor to disclose the requested information. Considering the persistent refusals of the institutions to provide access to contracts with private companies, the court decision was an achievement.
Honorary Diplomas in the same category were given to:
Mr. Georgi Shumakov, who had persistently sought for information using the APIA. He had also undertaken initiatives to provide institutions with necessary materials and equipment to fulfill their duties under the law. Mr. Shumakov bought and sent a box of printing paper to the Press Center and Public Relations Office at the National Assembly, as well as a Handbook for the administration how to apply the APIA. Mr. Shumakov has also initiated a donation action to buy a scanner machine for the same institution, so that it would not have any grounds to refuse electronic access to requested information.
Mr. Milen Chavrov also received a diploma for using the APIA in his search of information from the Ministry of Labour and Social Politics, the Ministry of Health, and other institutions which provided services for disabled people.
2. Non-governmental organization, which has most actively exersized its access to information right
The Center for NGOs in Razgrad was presented with the “Golden Key” Award as the NGO which had most actively exercised the right of access to information. The organization has for a long time used the procedures under the APIA for running different advocacy campaigns and litigation in order to achieve transparency and accountability of the local authorities. Besides, the Center for NGOs in Razgrad has published the information received under the APIA through local media and effectively used the information for the purposes of its reports.
An Honorary Diploma was bestowed to the Expert Group for Transparent and Efficient Cultural Policy. The NGO used the APIA to receive information and to litigate against the refusals of institutions responsible for cultural policies such as the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Finance, the National Movie Center and the Council of Ministers.
3. Best journalist story/campaign/publication related to the access to information right
The „Golden Key” for the best journalist story or campaign realized due to the active exercise of the right of information was given to the journalist Alexenia Dimitrova from 24 Hours daily. She was granted the award for her efficient use of the American and Bulgarian FOI laws for a number of media publications, as well as the book "The War of the Spies." In order to bring her journalistic investigations to an end, Alexenia Dimitrova challenges the refusals of the institutions to provide access and with the help of AIP litigates under the APIA.
An Honorary Diploma was given to Rossen Bossev from Capital weekly for his indepth investigation with regard to the proposed amendments to the APIA in March 2007. In practice, Rossen Bossev had used the law to obtain information, which served as a basis for a publication in the campaign for the protection of the law itself.
4. Institution, which has most efficiently organized the provision of public information
For the first time, in 2007, the "Golden Key"Award in the category for an institution that has best organized the supply of information to the public went to a state commission. The Fair Competition Commission was awarded for the regular and timely provision of information related to its work.
The Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Waters – Veliko Tarnovo received the Honorary Diploma in that category.
5. Best web-site of an institution with regard to the Access to Public Information Act
Тhe fifth positive Right to Know Day award was given for the most FOI-friendly web site. The 2007 recipient of the "Golden Key" in that category was the Municipality of Sliven (http://www.sliven.bg/). Besides the regular publication of official information, the site gives an opportunity for the submission of requests for access to information electronically.
Honorary Diplomas for FOI friendly web sites were given to: the Bulgarian National Audit Office (http://www.bulnao.government.bg/) and the Municipality of Tundzha (http://www.tundja.net/).
At the 2007 Right to Know Day Awards Ceremony, negative awards were given to these institutions, which did not fulfil their obligations under the APIA and violate people's right to know.
The 2007 "Padlock" went to the State Agency of Information Technology and Communications. The Agency deserved the negative award because it tried to weaken the effective Access to Public Information Act by going around the common procedure of introducing draft laws. The draft law was prepared at the demand of the Agency. After that three MPs were used to introduce the text of the draft law in the National Assembly in March 2007. Thus, without preliminary consultation process, an attempt was made to weaken the existing FOI regime in Bulgaria. With their actions, the State Agency of Information Technology and Communications violated the democratic principles of openness, transparency and the right of public participation in the discussion of statutory acts, especially regarding the APIA, which sets forth a constitutional right of the Bulgarians.
The "Tied Key" for the most absurd administrative FOI decision for the past year went to the General Headquarters of the Bulgarian Army for a response to a request about the purpose of tanks buried along the road connecting several villages in South Eastern Bulgaria. According to local people, the tanks had been abandoned since the Second World War, but the response of the General Staff stated that the requested information was classified and “its disclosure in media was forbidden.” The funny thing regarding that FOI response was that it was obvious that the tanks had not had any purpose for quite a long time. Besides, their situation was easily detectable with the help of Google Earth program.
For the first time, the Awards Committee for the Right to Know Day in Bulgaria decided to present a Dishonorary Diploma in the “funny” category. The letter sent by the Minister of Labour and Social Policy to the Chairman of the National Audit Office informing him that an employee of the audit office submitted requests during his working time and wasted the time of officials from the social ministry and subordinate agencies deserved the negative acknowledgement.
In spite of the invitations sent, nobody from the institutions nominated for the negative awards came at the 2007 Right to Know Day Awards Ceremony. However, representatives of some of the nominated institutions for negative awards called at the office of AIP to learn about the reasons behind the nominations. We consider such a sign of interest from the institutions as a desire to receive feedback from the civil society with the aim of improving the provision of information practices in the future.
The celebration of the 2007 Right to Know Day in Bulgaria was possible within the implementation of the project Increasing Government Transparency and Accountability through Electronic Access to Information, financed by the UNDP Democratic Governance Trust Fund. "Soft and Publishing CIELA," "Zagorka JSC", and "Damianitza JSC" kindly contributed to the celebration of the Right to Know Day for the second successive year.