The 9th Right to Know Day Awards Ceremony in Bulgaria was held on 28 September in the Bulgarian News Agency, Sofia. Access to Information Programme opened the event with the song “Breathe.” The event was broadcast live on Internet. More than hundred people attended the ceremony. Pictures are available at AIP web site: http://www.aip-bg.org/about/gallery/108773/
The Right to Know Day Awards Committee selected the winners in the six categories out of 59 nominations received through the special web site www.RightToKnowDay.net, AIP e-mail or sent by AIP coordinators in the country.
The winners in the six categories for 2011 are:
Kalina Pavlova with the award
The Golden Key award for a citizen who has most actively exercised their right of information was given to Ms. Kalina Pavlova. Ms. Pavlova is an architect from the Black Sea town of Varna and has been extremely consistent and persistent during the past several years in seeking information related to the Urban Development Plan of Varna and the allegedly illegal construction of a seaside alley (the so called First Alley). Kalina Pavlova’s active demand for public information was important for citizens’ participation in the decision making process regarding this issue. She has also systematically reverberated on the case via media outlets.
With honorary diplomas were recognized:
Mr. Emil Ilchev, a citizen, taxi driver, from the town of Blagoevgrad, who has actively used the Access to Public Information Act to obtain information related to decisions of the Municipality of Blagoevgrad and other authorities connected to the permits for the free parking in the paid area downtown, and other decisions of the Municipality Council. He also appeals information refusals in court.
Mr. Georgi Serbezov, a citizen from the town of Plovdiv, who has actively and consistently filed requests for access to information to the municipalities of Plovdiv and Smolian, related to the spending of public money by the municipality and by municipal companies for cats and dogs shelters. Mr. Serbezov has initiated and won on his own court cases against information refusals.
Iliyan Iliev from the Managing Board of the awarded NGO
The Public Environmental Center for Sustainable Development from the town of Varna was recognized with the Golden Key award as an NGO most actively exercised the right to information. The NGO has filed requests to all 264 municipalities in Bulgaria demanding information about the projects approved for EU funding under the Seven Operational Programs, the overall costs of those projects, and the real amount spent. As a result of the campaign, the organization has developed and published a booklet with a map of the municipalities which have refused access to information, as well as of those which have provided it.
The Golden Key Award for the most efficient use of the Access to Public Information Act for a journalistic investigation was presented to the team of the national daily Sega. The daily was the first to publish information about the sources of endowments to the Ministry of Interior (MoI). After filing an information request and having to travel across the country to obtain the information from the Regional Police Departments of the MoI, it turned out that persons under investigation and even convicted persons were among the donors of the law-enforcing institution. The series of revealing articles resulted in ceasing the practices of private persons and companies making endowments to the Ministry of Interior. Also, a register of the donors is to be launched online on October 1, 2011.
In 2011 again, the Cantek company kindly provided a present for the winner in the category. Mr. Milcho Borov, president of the company, presented a Printer/Scanner/Copier to Ms. Doroteya Dachkova who represented the Sega newspaper.
An Honorary diploma was given to:
Ms. Lora Fileva from the national daily Dnevnik for the series of publications revealing the practices of the Ministry of Interior receiving endowments. The information was obtained with the help of the Access to Public Information Act. The two media had split the regional Police Departments in the country to reduce the travel and time costs.
Ms. Fileva received a DVD player as a present from Technopolis Bulgaria.
AIP Executive Director, Gergana Jouleva, presents the Award to the President of NAO, Prof. Valeriy Dimitrov
The Bulgarian National Audit Office was recognized as the winner of the 2011 Golden Key award in the category for an institution which has most efficiently organized the provision of public information. The web site of the National Audit Office is in compliance with the requirements of the Access to Information Act and other obligations for openness and accountability. The National Audit Office maintains one of the most important registers related to the government transparency – The Register of Senior Public Officials. It contains the asset and property declarations of high government officials. Under the last amendments to the Electoral Code, effective as of January 28, 2011, the National Audit Office had developed, presented to media and nongovernmental organizations, and launched the National Unified Public Register for Election Participants. With the launch on September 26, 2011, a month before the national local government and presidential elections, the National Audit Office proved its slogan: Watching over taxpayers’ money. Professor Valeriy Dimitrov, President of the National Audit Office, received the Golden Key award.
With honorary diplomas were recognized:
The Municipality of Popovo was recognized with a diploma for not only good compliance with the requirements for active publication of information online, but for the special initiative of the mayor to appear once a month in the Hour of the Mayor broadcast which is shown on the local TV and is also available online. The mayor thus gives account of the decisions made and money spent to the public.
A surprise in the institutions recognized for transparency and accountability was the Ministry of Defense. Traditionally closed institution, and also awarded for an absurd administrative decision on an access to information request (in 2007), the Ministry of Defense was recognized specifically for casting light on the work of the Zmeyovo military test field near the town of Stara Zagora. The military ground used to be one of the most secret premises of the Ministry of Defense. A special section on the web site of the Ministry which provides camera view over the place and gives real time information about the air quality tests was launched. Hot telephone line was opened and a PR expert was assigned. These were small steps but important, and removed the suspicions for environmental pollution from Zmeyovo in the region of Stara Zagora.
Two municipalities were recognized for violating citizens’ right to information. The Padlock anti-award was given to the Municipality of Vidin for persistent practices to refuse access to information to citizens and journalists who have to fight against the refusals in the court. Even members of the Municipal Council have to file FOI requests to obtain information from the mayor.
Some of the winners of the 2011 Right to Know Day Awards
No representative of the municipality appeared to receive the award. However, AIP coordinator in Vidin, Ms. Anelia Slaveikova, took the Padlock and will present it to the mayor of the municipality.
A Dishonorary Diploma was given to the Municipality of Yambol. The Municipality of Yambol is infamous for its practices to silently refuse information to citizens, journalists, and even members of the Municipal Council. The latter also have to sue the mayor for access to public information. The web site of the institution lacks information subject to active publication. Finally, the municipality did not hold a public discussion and had not assigned an Environmental Impact Assessment for the project “reconstruction of the City Park,” under which a number of old trees were cut down. Not surprisingly, no one from the Municipality of Yambol was present to receive the diploma.
Mr. Dimitar Dimitrov, a citizen from the town of Yambol, and also a nominee in the category for a citizen, took the diploma to present it to the mayor.
The Tied Key award for a funny administrative decision on an access to information request was bestowed to the municipal company “Park Lots and Garages – Blagoevrgad”. On a request by Mr. Emil Ilchev, the citizen from Blagoevgrad, the company responded that their Activity Regulations were not public information. Mr. Ilchev was pleased to take the award and promised to present it to the director of the municipal company.
The song “Breathe” which opened the ceremony was composed by the musician Michail Yossifov. The text is written by Mariy Rossen. The song is performed by Andronia Popova – Roni and Michail Yossifov.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Waters joined the celebration of the 9th International Right to Know Day by organizing an “Open Doors” event for all its regional administrations.
AIP organized and held the Right to Know Day Awards Ceremony in Bulgaria for the ninth successive year. The organization and holding of the 2011 Right to Know Day in Bulgaria is supported by a grant from the America for Bulgaria Foundation within the project Responding to the New Demand for Freedom of Information. For a second year, presents for two winners were provided by Cantek Bulgaria and Tehnopolis Bulgaria. CIELA Soft and Publishing and Damianitza JSC kindly contributed to the celebration of the Right to Know Day again.