Thursday, January 15, 2004


13 January 2004

Even the President denies access to public information

In the series We Know Who the Owners Are we presented the real owners of land in Oghakadzev (Circle) Park, the Opera Park and the public park near Babayan Street . The former mayor of Yerevan, Robert Nazaryan, stated in a press conference two months ago that ninety-nine per cent of the cafes in the Opera Park had been built illegally. But the reason the current mayor, Yervand Zakharyan, doesn't touch these constructions is clear to every one - their owners are well-known bigwigs. On October 2, 2003 we sent a letter to Mayor Yervand Zakharyan requesting permission to take a look at the decisions regarding land allocations for cafes in the vicinity of the Yerevan Opera House taken from 1997 to 2003 by former mayors Vano Siradeghyan, Suren Abrahamyan, Albert Bazeyan and Robert Nazaryan. Mayoral decisions are open documents which must be accessible to everyone, including journalists. Forty days later the mayor's chief of staff, Samvel Koshetsyan, sent us the following message: "In response to your letter addressed to the Mayor's Office, I would like to inform you that you should specify the exact kind of information you intend to receive from the Yerevan Mayor's Office."

In the face of such a response, our only option was to appeal to the mayor's
boss, President Robert Kocharyan. According to the Law on the Procedure of
Consideration of Proposals, Appeals and Complaints, a citizen who contests a
decision taken with regard to his or her complaint may appeal to the agency
or official to whom the agency or official who took the decision in question is directly accountable. In our appeal to the president, we requested that he oblige his subordinate to permit us to look at the decisions in question. Again we received a response from the mayor's chief of staff. This time it said: "In response to your letter dated November 21, 2003 addressed to the president, we would like to inform you that Art. 4 and Art. 27 of the Law on Mass Media quoted by your association define the rights of a journalist but do not define the responsibilities of a state official. We should also note that the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations does not define the provision of information as a mandatory requirement, either. Meanwhile, it is necessary to stress that the Mayor's Office has never refused to provide information, and as far as the questions raised by the association are concerned, in view of their un-specified character, the Mayor's Office considers it impossible to provide such information."

This was written by someone who has obviously not read the constitution. Samvel Koshetyan seems to believe that he, as an official, is under no obligation to provide information. He is not even aware that according to the law he had no right to respond to our letter, since it was his action that we were appealing. We never received a response from the President's Office. This was, in fact, the second time that we had requested that Kocharyan intercede in our dealings with Koshetsyan.

Why did no one from the President's Office respond to our letter? Here are some possible explanations: 1. There are people in the President's Office who own some of these cafes (we have information to this effect). 2. There are people in the President's Office who interceded with the Mayor's Office for land allocation (we have such information as well). So in order to avoid bringing all this up, it was decided in the President's Office to instruct Samvel Koshetsyan to get rid of the journalists again. Of course there is another possibility, albeit a less likely one- they don't care about the law in the President's Office, but to make it look like they are hard at work, they sent the letter to the Mayor's Office.

Edik Baghdasaryan

No comments:

Post a Comment