Ban on spreading information about civil servants – expert opinion poll

13 February 2012

The Ukrainian Constitutional Court’s ruling banning disclosure of any information about public officials breaches human rights and compromises the government.

This opinion was voiced by members of parliament in response to the opinion poll conducted by the Gorshenin Institute. The poll asked respondents to comment on the ruling by the Constitutional Court on 20 January 2012 regarding the law of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information”, by which the court banned disseminating any information on Ukrainian officials without their approval.

Opposition Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defence Bloc MP and leader of Civil Position Party Anatoliy Hrytsenko has said that the Constitutional Court would have never approved a ruling like that having no government’s consent to do so.

“I do not think that this ruling by the Constitutional Court, as well as any other ruling, could have appeared if there had been no blessing from the Presidential Administration. And you may elaborate on this idea yourself using your imagination”, - Hrytsenko said.

Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defence Bloc MP and leader of European Party of Ukraine Mykola Katerynchuk has said that the aforementioned ruling by the Constitutional Court violates human rights. He recalled that the law “On Access to Public Information” was approved in response to calls from the international community, which called for the elimination of censorship in Ukrainian media, as the law would improve the situation with freedom of speech.

“Naturally, the Party of Regions could not change the law to such an extent so that it becomes unrecognizable, so the decision was approved using the fully controlled Constitutional Court. This decision puts a big question mark whether freedom of speech exists in Ukraine or not, whether information could be freely disseminated in Ukraine and whether information is available to public. This is a direct violation of human rights in regard to access to information about those people who rule the country”, - Katerynchuk said.

He also said that restricting access to information on relatives of civil servants will seriously cut the amount of public information on representatives of the incumbent government.

“This decision protects officials as it hides all economic aspects associated with staying in office, as most of property is registered to relatives and close people. The government will ignore this ruling by the Constitutional Court: they will use any information related to common people, but there will be problems in regard to freedom of speech, information and journalists’ work”, - Katerynchuk said.

Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc MP Serhiy Vlasenko has said that the government protected itself by means of this Constitutional Court’s ruling.

“The incumbent government is afraid of journalists’ investigations and high-profile scandals associated with the government since the time it was elected in 2010. People from the cabinet and the Presidential Administration do not want to be written about”, - Vlasenko said.

Vlasenko also said that the Constitutional Court can approve decisions like this because its sessions are held behind closed doors. Vlasenko said that they use a legislative provision allowing to approve decisions in a written form, when parties do not actually take part in a litigation (the parties shall not give any verbal explanations to the court and the court’s position can not be presented to public). According to Vlasenko, the Constitutional Court approved an absolute majority of recent decisions (90%) at closed sessions, which is why it is not possible to understand the court’s position.

“The Constitutional Court approves decisions, which are not consistent with common logic, the legal frameworks and sometimes even common sense”, Vlasenko said.

Vlasenko also said that practice of the European Court of Human Rights and the European law-enforcement experience demonstrate that a civil servant has to be significantly more transparent for society than a common citizen. He added that the issues of finance and property of a governmental official is a subject of very close attention from society in any good country.

“I visited the USA as a member of the Ukrainian parliament’s delegation and we familiarized ourselves with the US experience here: a declaration to be filled by a civil servant represents itself a long document where everything has to be included. You report not only on yourself but also on your family members, and every citizen has the right to request this document and to receive it, and this situation is absolutely normal, as an official has to be transparent to society. I personally supported the approach of a total declaring of everything, declaring not only income but also financial obligations and not only of civil servants themselves but also of members of their families, both those who live with them and those who do not; as we have plenty of officials who are as poor as a church mouse but they have very rich mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, mothers, sisters and brothers who never had any job or worked in the public sector but became millionaires or even billionaires. We have to put an end to this. By approving a decision like this, the Constitutional Court helps this sort of officials to hide information from public, which is an immoral thing”, - Vlasenko said.

People’s Party of Ukraine MP Oleh Zarubinskyy has said that an access to public information is rather an ethic than a legal issue.

“I understand the ideology and philosophy behind the Constitutional Court’s decision that human identity is still human identity. A man has the right for private life. Nevertheless, a different approach should be taken towards common people and those who are empowered to perform governmental functions”, - Zarubinskyy said.

Zarubinskyy also said that the Constitutional Court’s ruling does not contradict the requirements of the corruption-fighting regulations. “It seems to me (however I am not a lawyer) that this ruling does not confront the provisions of the corruption-fighting legislation which has been approved recently and takes effect in 2012 concerning state officials. It also seems to me that some journalists’ fears of not having an opportunity to obtain some kind of information about politicians and civil servants are exaggerated”, - Zarubinskyy said.

“Yes, on the one had we have examples when it appears that officials, including senior officials, own neither a car, not an apartment, they do not have any property at all, but they are dressed in suites each worth an annual income of an average family. Yes, we do have officials of this sort. However, I am not one of those. Let them differentiate between those who act like this and those ho do not, like I do. But on the other hand, is a family of a senior official obliged to come out and tell everyone private, confidential things?! I believe this is a moral, an ethic choice of every official: if somebody wants to take a senior position in the government, they should be ready to provide information that could be of any interest to any person absolutely voluntary, not only when obliged by the law to do so. I believe this is a moral, an ethic choice rather than a matter of legal practice”, - Zarubinskyy said.

Zarubinskyy also said that he does not share the opinion that the Constitutional Court’s ruling will result in less number of publications about representatives of the government. “Is there anything in today’s world that can be hidden?!”, - he asked.

Tags:  courts,   information  

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