Responses outside deadline

REPLIES RECEIVED OUTSIDE THE LEGAL DEADLINE
(Departments were arranged by date of application)

Of the 133 administrations that we requested information from, 15 responded after the legal deadline of 15 days had elapsed. According to Article 16 of RLAW, the administration may request an extension to the legal deadline (an additional 15 days) if it provides a legitimate reason

While reviewing the dates of responses, we found that some administrations have responded after the legal deadline but did not exceed 30 working days; however, they did so without an administrative request to renew the first 15 days. The question arises as to whether it is possible to renew the deadline without informing the applicant, especially since we have been constantly following up with the relevant administrations

Article 16 of RLAW, which determines the legal time frame allotted to an administration to respond to a formal request for information, does not refer to the process of renewal. According to this article, the administration can extend the time frame without informing the applicant and that could potentially lead the latter to lose interest or abandon the claim. We mentioned earlier that the legislator took into account the interests of both the applicant (by limiting the time to 15 days), and the administration (by allowing a deadline extension). Consequently, if the administration renews the deadline on its own without informing the applicant, it could cause the applicant financial or incorporeal damage, especially if they are journalists or researchers who pressingly need the material

Banque du Liban

Banque du Liban
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Central Bank of Lebanon(Bank du Liban) on January 25, 2018, the bank responded through its governor on March 13, 2018. He explained that, even before the issuance of RLAW, the bank was publishing all circulars issued, in addition to an annual report on its operations, on its website and through the Official Gazette, while the remaining information is protected by the Banking Secrecy Law

Regarding the official in charge of considering information requests, any citizen may submit a written request of information, in accordance with the law, to the governor of the Banque du Liban. It is understood that the information officer of Banque du Liban is Governor Riad Salame, and any person wishing to request information from the Bank shall submit a written letter addressing Salame. As for the laws in force, they protect banking secrecy and prevent the access of any person’s banking information

This prohibition exists since this information is considered personal and is the basis for the financial stability that attracts depositors and investors. Still, banking secrecy should not be interpreted broadly as it may prevent access to some information; all information concerning the bank’s business as an administration entity, or arising from the payment of public funds must be made available to all

  • Riyad Salameh
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Ministry of State for Women Affairs

Ministry of State for Women Affairs
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Ministry of State for Women›s Affairs on January 25, 2018. The Ministry responded by email through the Minister of State for Women’s Affairs on February 19, 2018. He stated that Lara al-Riyashi was assigned to review information requests and that all documents are published on the website of the Ministry and on its social networking page

If we compare the state ministries who responded to us, we find that only the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) has an official website. This may be due to the fact that OMSAR was established in the 1990s, whereas other State ministries, such as the Ministry of State for Displaced Affairs and the Ministry of State for Anti-Corruption Affairs, are relatively new Noncompliance with the provision requiring the creation of a website was justified by the latter two ministries, whose representatives stated that no budget had been allocated for this specific expense The Ministry of State for Women’s Affairs, however, is as newly established as the ministries mentioned above, but it already has created its own website. This raises the question that we brought up earlier in the report about the effectiveness of administrations and how they differ from one to another, depending on the commitment of the employees within each administration

The ministries mentioned above have the same resources, but we find that some of them assigned an information officer while others did not. Also, in terms of the website, only the Ministry of State for Women’s Affairs had launched their own website among the ministries created within the current government. It is noteworthy that decree No. 1942/2017, which transferred 303 million LBP from the budget’s reserve to contribute to the technical support project of the Ministry of State for Women’s Affairs. This shows that if the administration has a serious project or seeks to implement it, it can be financed with the budget even if no budgetary funding had been allocated in advance

  • Lara Al-Riyashi
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Ministry of Public Health

Ministry of Public Health
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Ministry of Public Health on January 26, 2018, the Ministry responded through mail on February 20, 2018 by sending a copy of a circular only stating that «all units in the Ministry of Public Health are requested to add the name of the website in decisions, circulars and memos relating to the reasoning grounds, if any, of the interpretation of laws and regulations of regulatory nature, the annual reports and public funds operations that exceed 5 millions LBP

The previous circular was intended to add the address of the website on the mandatory published documents, and did not mention the process of how these documents are published; therefore, the Ministry did not answer the requests we submitted. It also didn’t clarify who the information officer is, the modality of dutifully publishing of its mandatory documents, or the address of its official website. This indicates one of two things, either the administration lacked an understanding of the requests we submitted, thus lacks an understanding of RLAW, or the administration’s irreverence for citizens› requests led it to send an irrelevant and unrelated response to their request, consequently pushing them into a vicious circle by repeating requests in vain, especially in the absence of the National Anti-Corruption Commission which must deal with the conflicts or problems arising from information requests. Administrations ought to respond to citizens› requests whenever possible to promote transparency and combat corruption

  • Information Officer
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Council For South

Council For South

(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Council for South on January 31, 2018. The Council responded through its director general by email on March 2018 ,7, stating that Jamal Hussein Hammoud has been assigned to review information requests, and that he should dutifully publish the mandatory documents on the Council’s website

Through this response, it was made clear to us that the Council for South is working to implement the provisions of RLAW. The Council, however, responded to our request past the legal deadline of 15 days, submitting the required information 26 working days after our initial request without informing us of the renewal despite our repeated follow-ups. This brings us back to our initial question regarding the adequacy of the -15-day deadline

  • Jamal Hussein
    Hammoud
  • 01/826214
    03/641646
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Ministry of State for Human Rights Affairs

Ministry of State for Human Rights Affairs
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a request to the Ministry of State for Human Rights Affairs on January 31, 2018. The Ministry responded to us in writing by regular and electronic mail through its minister on March 2, 2018. He explained that the Ministry «is a minister›s office that does not have a budget or full-time employees and is based solely on volunteering.» He added that the Ministry could not «create its own special website through which the ministry could disseminate the information it receives

We compared state ministries and looked at differences in their commitments to implementing RLAW’s provisions earlier in the report. Also, we explained that these ministries have the same resources; therefore, how can the Ministry of State for Women›s Affairs, for example, assign an information officer, launch a website and dutifully publish its obligatory documents, while the Ministry of State for Human Rights Affairs claims to lack a budget and full-time staff? It is worth noting that each state ministry is allocated a sum of 3 million LBP per month from the budget of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers

  • Information Officer
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Rafic Hariri University Hospital

Rafic Hariri University Hospital
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

Among public hospitals affiliated to the Ministry of Health, we chose only to apply to Rafic Hariri University Hospital as it is a university hospital and is located in the capital Beirut making it a public institution with several operations that may concern citizens. We submitted a written request on 31/1/2018. The hospital responded through its Chairman and General Manager on March 16, 2018 His response began with enumerating articles from the law that do not apply to the hospital, such as article 6, which requires the publication of the reasoning with laws and decrees since the hospital does not issue such documents. Moreover, the first paragraph of Article 7, requires the publication of decisions and circulars which contains an interpretation of the laws and regulations or are of an organizational nature; however, does the hospital administration not issue decisions and circulars to the employees to inform them and facilitate the understanding of the content of the laws that apply to them?

As for the second paragraph of Article 7, relating to the publication of all transactions that cost more than 5 million LBP of public funds, the hospital considered the publication of such operations to be “impossible due to their large number and because it relates to the right of third parties, who are the suppliers the hospital works with. “In any case,” the hospital continued “[transactions] are in line with applicable laws and regulations”

While it’s true that the number of transactions using public funds will be large, since the hospital is a public service facility, but this should not prevent the publication of such transactions. Regarding the rights of suppliers, this should be another reason to publish these transactions so citizens can monitor how public funds are disbursed

These processes should be transparent and not tainted by corruption. The large number of financial transactions undertaken by any administration should not be an impediment to their publication. It is as if the hospital here requests the blind trust of citizens in their disbursement of public funds because they are carried out in accordance with laws and regulations, according to the hospital

As for the publication of annual reports, as stipulated in Article 8 of the law, the hospital stated that it will publish them on its website. So far, six months after the date of this response, and at the time of publication, none of these reports had been published on the hospital’s website

  • Information Officer
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Supreme Judicial Council

Supreme Judicial Council
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Supreme Judicial Council on February 2, 2018. The Council responded through its President on March 7, 2018, by stating that our request is outside the scope of the administrative documents specified in Article 3 of RLAW. It is worth mentioning that the second paragraph of this article lists what constitutes an administrative document, which includes but is not limited to the references in Article 3, paragraph 2, clause 2 that outlines: orders, instructions, directives, circulars, memos, correspondences, opinions and decisions issued by the administration as administrative documents that may be requested from the administration. In the case of the Supreme Judicial Council, isn’t the information officer assigned through an administrative decision? Is it not the citizen’s right to request this decision?

The Council went even further, stating that the assignment of an information officer within the administration does not require revealing his or her name because it is subject to change and there is no special communication mechanism with the employee. According to the Council, information requests are submitted to the administration itself, which in turn transfers the requests to the employee in charge. The Council is somewhat correct, the application may be submitted to the administration and then referred to the employee in charge. However, the law explicitly states in Article 15 that an information officer shall be assigned by the administration, which in turn shall
keep a record of the applications submitted and, upon receiving the request, shall give a receipt of notice in accordance with Article 14, paragraph 3, of RLAW. It is therefore more effective to comply with the provisions of the law even both procedures lead to the same result

At the end of its response, the Council stated that it had issued a report comprising the work of the Lebanese courts for three judicial years, which could be obtained from the registry, in addition to launching a temporary website until the necessary financial means are available for its development.
It also considered that the work of the Council, including its correspondents and circulars, falls within the exception contained in the fifth paragraph of Article 5 of RLAW that prevents access to secrets protected by the law such as professional secrecy or trade secrecy without clarifying the basis on which the Council has taken this decision

How can the circulars issued by a judicial body be excluded from the provisions of this law in addition to its work? Especially since the law in Article 2, which defines the term “administration” in the fourth paragraph, considers courts and bodies of a judicial nature subject to its provisions

The Supreme Judicial Council has recently adopted a policy of secrecy in its work and perhaps this policy has led it to disregard the provisions of RLAW. Since this council represents the third constitutional branch, which is the judiciary authority, it should preserve and guarantee the principles of democracy within Lebanese society. Here, another problem arises in the absence of the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, who is the competent body that can consider disputes with the Supreme Judicial Council regarding the right to access information, in the absence of procedural rules to review the Council? Surely the State Consultative Council is not
competent as we are dealing with an independent judicial body; consequently, shall we transfer the dispute to the Supreme Judicial Council, which is represented by a body composed of its own members? Accordingly, the Council would become the opponent and the referee at the same time

  • Information Officer
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National Conservatory of Music - Conservatoire -

National Conservatory of Music – Conservatoire –
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the National Conservatory of Music on February 2, 2018. The Conservatory responded to us on May 2018 ,9, about three months after the deadline, through its commissioned president. He explained that Rita Jabbour had been assigned to review information requests and he provided her contact information. In addition, as for the documents to be dutifully published, the laws and decrees related to the Conservatory are published in accordance to the rules on its official website

The Conservatory’s response to our request after the expiration of the legal period by about three months indicates one of two situations. Either the administration is not committed or does not respect the provisions of RLAW, or the administration does not have the administrative capacity to implement the provisions of the law due to a lack of resources. Therefore, the legal time limit in this case is insufficient. However, we did not request information that is difficult to obtain; on the contrary, this information must be available even without requesting it. It should facilitate citizens’ inquiries to the administration and help achieve the principles of transparency in their work. As previously mentioned, the time limit, while it may be relatively short, can be renewed by the administration if necessary, according to the provisions of RLAW. Unjustified delays by an administration nullifies the principles of transparency and violates the provisions of RLAW regardless of the information required. In addition, the Conservatory’s response was not clear about the documents to dutifully be published by law. It mentions the publication of laws and decrees related to the Conservatory by the official authorities without mentioning what must be published by them, such as invoices exceeding 5 million LBP, or annual reports. This raises another question about the commitment of the Conservatory to the provisions of RLAW

  • Rita Jabbour
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Lebanese University - Central Administration -

Lebanese University – Central Administration –
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Lebanese University, Central Administration on February 5, 2018. The University responded through its president on March 2018 ,14, explaining that all documents to be dutifully published according to the law are communicated to all units, branches and university centers, as well as being published on the university’s website

Regarding the information officer, the executive administrator of the Lebanese University, Sahar Alamuddin, was assigned to review information requests

  • Sahar Alamuddin
  • 01/612618
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Lebanese Petroleum Administration

Lebanese Petroleum Administration
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA) on February 2018 ,8. The Administration responded through the chairman of its board of directors, who explained that the response after the legal deadline was purely technical, and this brings us back to what was raised in the context of whether the legal deadline is adequate or not, emphasizing on the importance of this deadline and its renewal when necessary. The law did not mention, however, how to renew the deadline. If the administration should respond within 15 days after the original deadline, is it implied that the administration has renewed this time period or does it have to inform the applicant of this renewal? It should be noted that the Lebanese Petroleum Administration is the only administration implementing the provisions of RLAW even before submitting requests to it. This was further clarified by the chairman of the board, who stated that the administration had launched its website after the appointment of its board members in 2012. He also explained that the administration disseminates all information and data related to its work. This includes the legislative system that governs its work, the data and maps related to the seabed, and all the information related to the first licensing course in the Lebanese marine waters, which was closed at the end of 2017 by the contracting of the maritime fleets 4 and 9 in the Lebanese marine waters

In addition, the chairman explained that Gabi Daboul, a member of the board of directors, and the head of the Legal Affairs department, is assigned to review information requests. This was announced on the administration›s website with a listing of the information officer’s email address, through which an applicant can send their request by clicking the link «Click here to Send the Request.” This type of communication ensures effectiveness as well as the elimination of bureaucratic complexities

With regard to the deployment of financial operations, the Commission has indicated that it is publishing a list of technical service contracts that were signed with international legal, economic, or technical consultants. The documents identify the name of the consultants, technical services provided, the year and the contract value. LPA is the only administration that publishes its financial operations and did not present the large number of such transactions or the personal nature of these contracts as an excuse not to publish, establishing the concepts of transparency in the foundations of its work

Regarding the information to be dutifully published under articles 6, 7 and 8 of the law, LPA indicated
that it will follow those procedures in the event of new laws or decrees relating to its work. As for financial operations, we have explained in the preceding paragraph that the administration publishes them in its annual financial reports. The annual reports on the activities of the administration and its executed or future projects are available on LPA’s website

  • Gabi Daboul
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Directorate of Land and Marine Transportation

Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport on February 8, 2018. The Directorate responded through the director general on March 22, 2018. He stated that «the party wishing to obtain information from the Directorate of Land and Marine Transportation shall submit an application to the registry of the administration, then the registrar, Tony Assaf, will take care of the request and prepare the information,” In other words, the information officer is the registrar, and the requests for information are submitted to the administration’s regular registry and not a distinct registry as specified in Article 14 of RLAW

As for their website, it is being developed in cooperation with the Ministry of State for Administrative Development Affairs, where the mandatory documents will dutifully be published. This shows us that the Directorate of Land and Marine Transportation is not publishing documents that it is mandated to publish while it waits for the development of its website

  • Tony Assaf
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Directorate of Customs

Directorate of Customs
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the General Directorate of Customs on February 12, 2018. The Directorate responded through the director general on March 20, 2018. He stated that the Directorate had proposed to the Ministry of Finance, its supervisory authority, the assignment of assistant supervisor, Aline Abu Joudeh, to consider requests for information, which means that the Directorate has not officially assigned an information officer

As for their official website, he explained that the Directorate is in the process of launching a new site. Concerning the publication of the documents to dutifully be published, this issue was not addressed in the administration‘s response. Therefore, we have no official answer regarding this matter. It is known, however, that the Customs publishes its circulars concerning citizens at the entrances of its centers and ports, but the inquiry about disclosing the administration’s financial transactions that exceed 5 million LBP remains unaddressed

  • Aline
    Abu Joudeh
  • 01/980270
    03/883862
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Economic and Social Council

Economic and Social Council
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Economic and Social Council through registered mail. The Council received the request on April 3, 2018, and it responded by mail through its director general on May ,8 2018, who stated that Nathalie Saba is assigned to consider requests to access information and provided her contact information. He also explained that the Council›s decisions will be published on its website after it is updated and developed

It is worth mentioning that the work of the Council was suspended for 15 years and was re-launched on December 1, 2017 after RLAW was issued. Accordingly, it was not possible to apply the provisions of this law prior to this date. Therefore, the Council›s application of the above-mentioned law is one of its most vital tasks, as it preserves the principles of transparency at the beginning of its work

  • Nathalie Saba
  • 01/990090 Ext: 410
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General Security Directorate

General Security Directorate
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the General Security Directorate through registered mail on May 3, 2018. The Directorate responded after about two months, on July 4, 2018, through its director general. Regarding the information officer, he explained, «this type of application shall revert to the relevant offices and departments according to the content of the information required. And this shall be decided by the director-general every time one wishes to obtain the information by applying to the General Security Directorate through the General Secretariat

Firstly, the Directorate failed to meet the legal deadline in its response to an information request. It took two months to respond to our request, to inform us that no information officer had been assigned, and that any applicant requesting information should forward their request to the General Security Directorate through the General Secretariat. Afterward, the director general shall forward the request to the competent department within the administration

We have previously mentioned when presenting the Internal Security Forces response that it is the duty of the administration, whichever it may be, to commit to the provisions RLAW as the law is a single indivisible unit. The delay in the response of the General Security Directorate indicates the efficiency of having an Information Officer into information requests, because if the Director-General has to approve all requests as well as perform his multiple complex duties, this will complicate the administrative procedures, which most likely causes the delay to the responses. RLAW specifically didn’t require the approval of the director general of any administration to the information requests, but rather commissioned the tasks of reviewing and responding to requests to the information officer only

As for the documents to be dutifully published, the Directorate added that the instructions, implementing memorandums of the laws, decrees and resolutions in effect are published on the administration›s website

However, like other administrations, they did not mention the publication of financial transactions exceeding 5 million LBP from public funds

Here we reiterate what was mentioned in the Internal Security Forces’ response, where although security work requires secrecy, that not all the Directorate’s expenditures are spent on security. The usual administrative and logistics expenses should be published in accordance with the second paragraph of Article 7 of RLAW, and in the case of the General Security Directorate, the implementation of the second paragraph of Article 7, is important for the publication of the costs of the official documents issued by the Directorate. For example, the issuing of passports that burdens citizens every time they want to obtain or renew a passport due to its costly procedures

As for the website the Directorate is required to have, the director general provided us with the website of the Directorate: www.general-security.gov.lb

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Middle East Airlines - Lebanese Airlines SAL

Middle East Airlines – Lebanese Airlines SAL
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to Middle East Airlines (MEA) through registered mail on May 4, 2018. The airline responded through the head of the Legal Affairs department stating that MEA is a Lebanese Trading company, registered in the Lebanese Commercial Registry, and is subject to the provisions of Lebanese Commercial Laws in force, and that in accordance to the applicable laws, there is no possibility to respond to our request

A quick look at the Lebanese Commercial Registry shows that the Banque du Liban — a public body — owns 54,575,849 shares of Middle East Airlines, while 18,894 shares are owned by different shareholders, which makes MEA a mixed company shared by the public and private sectors, to which paragraph 7 of article 2 of RLAW apply. This makes it subject to the provisions of the law and thus allows any person has the right to access all information unless excluded by RLAW. The National Deposit Insurance Corporation, like MEA, is also considered a mixed company, as Banque du Liban holds 50 percent of its shares, while other private Lebanese banks owns the other 50 percent. It is worthy to note that the National Deposit Insurance Corporation had refused to receive our request, on the grounds that the information in its possession is confidential

The Duty Free also, is a private company operating public utility, to which paragraph 6 of Article 2 of RLAW is applicable. We sent these companies requests, but only received a response from Middle East Airlines

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Posted on September 6, 2018 in Right to Access Information project

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