Gherbal Initiative: Right to access information in the Lebanese context

“Gherbal is celebrating International Access to Information day in its own way,” Thebian told Annahar. Technology allowed for “creating an open tool and source."
by Danah Kaouri

28 September 2019 | 15:23

Source: by Annahar

  • by Danah Kaouri
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 28 September 2019 | 15:23

Founder and director of GI, Assad Thebian taking the audience through the features of the initiative's website. (Annahar Photo).

BEIRUT: Prior to the International Day for Universal Access to Information, two reports were launched tackling the public administrations' commitment to Access to Information Law and financial transparency within public administrations.

These reports were produced by Gherbal Initiative (GI), an initiative that works towards encouraging transparency and fighting corruption within different sectors through advocacy for the right to access information and informing citizens about laws.

The release of the reports took place on Friday at the Lebanese National Library, since “national libraries are offering a space that allows people the right of accessing information,” said Celine Mehrej, the Welcoming speaker.

The launching witnessed the attendance of prominent figures such as MP Paula Yaccoubian and MP Dima Jamali, representatives from public administrations, ambassadors from the Canadian, Danish, Omani, and Swiss embassies, and civil society representatives.

The report concerned with transparency in Lebanese public administrations highlighted the “negative incidents” that occurred in the past year. It clearly lists the administrations who “refused to acknowledge the right of access to information." Those included both public and private administrations. 

"Private companies operating public utilities do not consider themselves obliged to apply the provisions of the law," which goes against Article 2 of the Access to Information Act.

Additionally, since religious and spiritual institutions are receivers of annual allowances from the Lebanese state budget, they fall under GI’s framework. The report notes that these institutions refused to respond to their requests.

The report explained that the speculation of the law (as being inactive and requires implementation decrees) was used as a justification by some public administrations who refused to cooperate despite the fact that the “law is valid and does not need implementing decrees, according to the Legislation and Consultation Authority,” said Hussein Mehdy, speaker.

The authority also emphasized on the right to apply for accessing information to any person despite their position.

On a brighter side, there were some “positive incidents” noted by the report. Some public administrations provided GI with the requested records within legal deadlines. Among them are the National Commission for Lebanese Women, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the General Directorate of Ministry of Labour, the National Security Fund, and more.

In fact, some public administrations like the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Industry published their annual reports on their websites before a request was submitted by Gherbal.

Aside from the first report, the second report discussed in GI's event tackled public spending in 2017 and served as a user guide on topics including budget preparations and more. The report includes pie charts of detailed budget spending of the cooperative public administrations.

Committing to one of their main objective of simple explanations of laws and data through interactive visuals and precise numbers, Assad Thebian, founder and director of Gherbal Initiative, took attendees through the initiative’s website that includes budget spending and allocations, steps to apply for accessing information from public administrations, and a list of official Twitter accounts for figures in power to fill the communication gap between citizens and the government.

“Gherbal is celebrating International Access to Information day in its own way,” Thebian told Annahar. Technology allowed for “creating an open tool and source."

He emphasized that this tool can come in handy for “investigative journalists, researchers, and students.”

“I believe that all citizens now have a tool to monitor and navigate Lebanese state budget,” he added.

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