"Receipt of National Agency of Public Registry extract costs GEL 15," reads the November 3, 2009 amendment adopted by the Parliament of Georgia and having entered into force on January 1, 2010. A citizen willing to identify the business owner or the founder shall pay the aforementioned amount. For instance, Monitor Studio journalist Givi Mgeladze needs to identify the founders of 40 firms to conduct a journalism investigation. In total he has to pay GEL 600. This sum is a luxury to any citizen or media organization. The work is going to be hard for the ones dedicated to journalism and willing to observe deeper whatever is happening in the country," said Nino Zuriashvili, Head of the Monitor studio.
The information about the owner and the founder of a firm used to be public until May 2008. In line with the amendments the information was expected to become more transparent and accessible, and the procedure of its receipt - more simple. "Anyone can easily apply the service provided by our agency and have access to the information published on our website," Soso Tsikarishvili, head of the registry said. But no one mentioned the obstacle set as by the new law - GEL 15 fee to obtain information.
According to Article 38 of the General Administrative Code "A public agency shall provide access to the copy of public information. No fees shall be charged for distributing public information, except for copying costs." This article of the law is being adhered in other institutions and the copying cost for a page is 5 Georgian Tetri. The same service at the National Registry would top GEL 50. "In case I needed urgent service I used to pay GEL 6,5 for the public registry extract. I used to protest the cost since the difference in comparison with other agencies is huge. In response to my protest I got the same answer every time: they have got their own rules," Givi Mgeladze said. Koba Bakhturidze, head of the registry service for businessmen and non-commercial legal persons confirmed the registry applies its own rule. According to him the laws on public registry and businessmen do not conform to the General Administrative Code. The fee - GEL 15 - for the NARB business extract of maximum three pages, is also inconsistent with 5 Georgian Tetri per page charged by other public agencies.
According to the clarification provided by Tamar Gurchiani of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) the National Agency of Public Registry is a legal person of the public law "unlike other state bodies legal persons of the public law enjoy a right to impose fees for their service. The organizations of a kind are tempted to set inadequate fees. This way the State can earn money through selling the information they shall give away in line with the legislation."
Koba Bakhturidze cannot clarify the reason for imposing GEL 15 for the NARB extract instead of GEL 20 or 10. According to him the amount was initiated by the parliament and the answer to the way of distribution of the money paid for the information should be obtained from the initiators. Unfortunately, despite the Liberal magazine attempts it was impossible to contact the initiators of the law in the course of the work on the material.
According to Tamar Gurchiani of GYLA any type of fee complicates access to information and hampers the process of transparency. Gurchiani cited 10 standards of freedom of information and transparency worked out by the international organization Article 19. According to one of standards imposing fee for public information generates an artificial barrier for transparency.
"When you block information this way you contribute to corruption, with a full meaning of this word. If tomorrow a friend of MP becomes a founder and receives grants journalists will be unable to verify that the MP's friend is going to be awarded a grant," Nino Zuriashvili said.