Responses within deadline

RESPONSES RECEIVED WITHIN THE LEGAL DEADLINE
(Listed here in chronological order on the basis of our submission date)
Of the 133 administrations that we requested information from, only 19 complied within the legal deadline (specified as 15 days) by responding to our request. 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

This raises the issue of the validity of the -15 day deadline. Does it provide sufficient time, but administrations are reluctant to answer? Or is it insufficient and administrations cannot respond to the request for information during this period due to the bureaucracy governing their work?

Whatever the reason for such a low compliance rate within the deadline, the time frame is necessary to ensure that access to information is being provided. This is especially true for journalists and researchers, for whom time is of the essence and key to presenting the public with the facts. While at the same time the law took into account the administrations’ interest by allowing to renew this period to another 15 days whenever there is a necessity

Ministry of State for Displaced Affairs

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

We submitted a written request to the Ministry of State for Displaced Affairs (MoSDA) on January 25, 2018. The ministry responded to the request through its minister on February 13, 2018, demonstrating that MoSDA believes in the importance of enhancing transparency and the right of citizens to monitor the work of ministries and public administrations. The minister also informed us that his Ministry had assigned May el-Sayegh as the information officer. MoSDA also publishes all its activities and news related to its meetings either through visual media or through its social networking sites. The Ministry has no website due to its lack of an administrative structure and financial apparatus, especially since MoSDA does not enjoy financial independence and does not have a special budget; instead, it receives a lump sum from the budget of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of 3 million LBP per month, which is used for expenses

  • May El Sayegh
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Ministry of State for Administrative Development Affairs

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

We submitted a written request to The Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) on January 25, 2018. The Ministry responded by email and in writing through its information officer on January 29, 2018, who provided us with the decision taken by the minister to appoint an information officer tasked with considering and identifying requests for information. The officer also provided us with a decision directing the Ministry’s staff to save information in electronic form whenever possible, according to Chapter 2 of RLAW that outlines the administration’s duties

The information officer is Ibtisam el-Haber Maalouf, head of the Center for Public Sector Projects and Studies in the Ministry, hired in accordance with Decision No. 53, issued by the minister on April, 26 2017, and whose functions are specified in Decision No. 53, issued on April 25, 2017. The decision to direct the Ministry’s working teams on how to save and publish information is determined by Decision No. 56, dated May 12, 2018

As for the Ministry’s website, it was not identified in the Ministry’s response, but it is publicly known and is considered the state’s guide: www.omsar.gov.lb. It should be mentioned that The Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform is one of two administrations that were publicly complying with RLAW

  • Ibtisam El-Haber Maalouf
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Decisions of the Minister of Administrative and Development Affairs

Decisions: 52/201753/201755/2017

Ministry of Displaced

Ministry of Displaced
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Ministry of the Displaced on January 25, 2018. The ministry responded in writing through the director general on February 2, 2018, stating that the head of the registry of the ministry, Jihad Bou Hadir, had been assigned as an information officer to answer information requests and inquiries

In addition to providing us with the website of the ministry, where decisions are published and made accessible to all, the response included a note that anyone can contact the ministry via email and inquire about any transaction relating to the person of interest

  • Jihad Bou Hadir
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Ministry of Industry

Ministry of Industry
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Ministry of Industry on January 26, 2018, and the ministry responded in writing through the director general on February 12, 2018, who informed us that documents published in accordance with the law can be found on the website of the Ministry under “Publications and Studies”

An information officer had not been assigned, but the response to our inquiry suggests that anyone can apply to the Ministry of Industry through the director general’s office, who in turn transfers the request to the relevant department within the administration to provide access to the required information

  • Information
    Officer
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  • www.industry.gov.lb
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National Archives Institution

National Archives Institution
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the National Archives Institution on January 30, 2018. We received a written response by the person assigned to conduct the Institution’s work in the form of a scanned email on February 6, 2018. It stated that “all applications of citizens and researchers who come to the institution for information and documents are being met in accordance with the applicable laws and specifically Conservation Law No. 162/1999”

In fact, the Conservation Law, referred to above, regulates the national archives, to which RLAW has referred to in relation to inaccessible administrative documents. Thus, the institution must apply the two laws regarding access to archives. However, the response only included the above, and that work is currently underway to update the Institution’s website in coordination with the The Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform without disclosing the website’s address. The institution did not respond to how it publishes its decisions and what should be published, nor did it provide an answer to our inquiry about assigning an information officer, in accordance with RLAW

  • Information
    Officer
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National Fund for the Displaced

National Fund for the Displaced
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the National Fund for the Displaced on January 30, 2018. It was reviewed by the chairman of the Fund when we submitted it, who agreed in writing to our requests and instructed his office director to respond to it. Despite repeated follow-ups with the office director, however, our request was ignored. For this reason, practically no information was obtained from the Central Fund for the Displaced

  • Information Officer
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National Social Security Fund

National Social Security Fund
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) on February 2, 2018. They responded through a scanned email from the director general on February 17, 2018, stating that all the information related to the Fund is available on its website and is accessible to all

The financial advisor to the NSSF, Hassan Diab, can also be contacted via email to obtain information, but a special proposal must be submitted to the Directorate General of the National Social Security Fund

  • Hassan Diab
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Camille Chamoun Sports City

Camille Chamoun Sports City
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Camille Chamoun Sports City on February 3, 2018. They responded through the chairman of the board of directors on February 19, 2018 by stating that Ali Hamdan is responsible for information requests and detailing his contact information.
They also provided us with the website of the stadium, but they disregarded our request concerning how they dutifully publish their information

We faced several administrations and public institutions that ignored some of our requests. Nonetheless, administrations shall work towards implementing all of RLAW’s provisions for it is law, and the law is one indivisible unit

  • Ali Hamdan
  • 01/842215
    03/503066
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Educational Center for Research and Development

Educational Center for Research and Development
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Educational Center for Research and Development on February 8, 2018. They responded in writing through the commissioned president of the Center on February 22, 2018, focusing on promoting transparency and initiating the principles of accountability in public administrations and institutions

In their response, they highlighted that the Center’s registry is run by Daad Rizk. Located in the main building of the center in Dekweneh, the eighth floor is where all written requests are received from the beneficiaries of RLAW. They also provided us with the website, through which the center publishes some decisions, circulars, memorandums, studies and statistics

It is understood that Daad Rizk is the assigned officer in charge of considering requests for information submitted to the center. Several administrations have commissioned their registrar as the information officer, which facilitates the way applications are registered with the administrations

This is an unnecessary step, however, since the information officer, whether the registrar or another officer, is obliged to hold a record of the applications submitted and give a receipt of notice when receiving information requests

  • Daad Rizk
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The Constitutional Council

The Constitutional Council
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

The written request was presented to the Constitutional Council on February 8, 2018. The Council responded to the letter through the Registrar of the Council on February 20, 2018, stating that the Council is very keen on transparency and that its budget is published within the state budget. The Council added that “the administrative body of the Constitutional Council has limited abilities and is limited to running the administrative affairs of the Constitutional Council and has nothing to do with citizens because the law does not give them the right to review the Council”

The Council also pointed out that its work in the area of considering judicial reviews and contestations arising from the presidential and parliamentary elections are shrouded by secrecy. In response to our inquiry into how they publish the decisions they issue, we were told it is done in the Official Gazette and on the website of the Council, which they also provided us with

In other words, the Council’s response alludes that Lebanese citizens cannot request information from it, due to the fact that the constitution limited those who can review the Council to specific persons in specified situations only (Judicial Review and Contestations of Presidential and Parliamentarian Elections). Based on the Council’s response, we are led to believe that they consider themselves not concerned by RLAW’s provisions

If we refer to Law No. 250/1993 (the law establishing the Constitutional Council), which was amended several times, and focus on the amendment through Law No. 1999/150, and if we specifically consider the second paragraph of Article 1 of this amendment, and examine Law No. 516/1996 (CC bylaws), we will find that in the bylaws of the Constitutional Council — specifically the first article, which was birthed to resolve the jurisprudential dispute about the legal nature and status of the Council — that the Council is an independent constitutional body with a judicial status. In the fourth paragraph of Article 2 of RLAW, an “administration” is defined as “the courts, bodies and councils of a judicial or arbitral character, both ordinary and extraordinary, including the judicial, administrative and financial courts excluding sectarian courts”. It demonstrates that RLAW exempts only sectarian courts, so if the legislator wanted to exclude any other court, nothing would have prevented them from doing so. Therefore, doesn’t the description of a “body of judicial nature” apply to the establishing law and the bylaws of the Constitutional Council as an independent constitutional body of judicial status?

For these reasons, shouldn’t the provisions of RLAW cover the Constitutional Council? The Council’s response was as follows: “It has nothing to do with citizens because the law does not give them the right to review the Constitutional Council,” stating that its role is limited, as
opposed to other countries such as France and Germany, which attach great importance to the Constitutional Judiciary that issues repeals to unconstitutional laws based on citizens reviews. Our request, however, does not involve an ongoing process to contest any electoral procedure or judicial review; we submitted an administrative review requesting non-confidential information that does not relate to the studies of any judicial decision the Council issues. So, what if a citizen asks for the Council’s budget or any transactions of public funds?

Is this inquiry also considered a judicial review, and therefore not accepted because it was filed by a citizen? Another problem arises here. It is known that due to the absence of the formation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the State Consultative Council may adjudicate disputes related to RLAW with public administrations; here we are dealing with an Independent Constitutional Body with a Judicial Status, however, where it is not possible to go to the State Consultative Council, and if we are to go to the -10 member Council’s Office to decide on this matter, how must we proceed if there are no due process regulations that specify how citizens should submit their reviews before them? It is also important to note that this Council does not recognize the right of citizens to access information possessed by them under the provisions of RLAW

  • Information Officer
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Public Directorate of Oil

Public Directorate of Oil
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Directorate General of Oil on February 8, 2018. We received a response through its director general on March 1, 2018, who explained that Jumana al-Khawand, the head of the registrar at the Directorate, has been assigned as the information officer. This response was sent based upon the approval of the supervising Ministry of Energy and Water on February 13, 2018, six days after submitting the request. In their communication with us, we were also informed that the Directorate was in the process of establishing its own website and would publish all its relevant information on it as soon as it was ready

If we were to compare the General Directorate of Oil, which complies with a Supervisory Authority (Ministry of Energy and Water) with the Higher Commission for Relief (we will present it through this report), which prevented the response and referred to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers being the supervisory authority, we would find that both administrations have supervisory authorities

However, the Directorate General of Oil responded to our request as opposed to the High Relief Commission on the grounds of the pretext of subordination to the supervisory authority. In fact, there is no administration that is not subject to a supervisory authority, and none of the administrations that responded to us referred us to this authority. If they did so, we would only be able to request information from the ministries and some other institutions. This contradicts with what is stated in RAIL, which defines what it means by “Administration”, including all “public legal persons”; had the legislator wanted to restrict access to information to the ministries, they would have clearly not defined what is meant by “administrations”

Returning to the response of the Directorate of Oil, we find that this administration does not publish any of the documents that are within its publishable duties and has yet to create its website. So the question is, are the administrations limited to publishing on an online website? In the second chapter of Right to Access Information Law, titled «Publishing Duty,» Article 6 states that «the reasons for the laws and decrees of various kinds shall be published in the Official Gazette.» However, the Directorate does not issue laws or decrees making Article 6 inapplicable to its office. Whereas Article 7 mandates the administration to publish on its website decisions, circulars, memorandums, and transactions under which at least 5 million LBP or more of public funds were spent. In addition, Article 9 states that «all the documents mentioned in the preceding article shall be published on the websites of the concerning administrations,» and what is meant by “all documents in the preceding article” is the annual reports issued by the administration. Based on the aforementioned articles, publishing must be done through the website, but what if these websites do not exist?

  • Jumana Al Khawand
  • 01/280443
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Directorate of Real Estate Affairs

Directorate of Real Estate Affairs
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Directorate for Real Estate Affairs on March 8, 2018. They responded during our visit through the director general of the administration, who informed us of the upcoming launch of the administration’s website and mobile application, which will include periodically published statistical reports. This information is also possible to attain by contacting the Department of Informatics in the Directorate

We concluded that the Directorate of Real Estate Affairs receives and responds to information requests without having assigned an information officer to handle such requests; rather, the director general internally transfers the request to the relevant official within the administration. We have already mentioned that the law is a single and indivisible unit. An administration may not implement parts of the law and disregard others, especially in the case of the Directorate of Real Estate Affairs, which increases bureaucratic procedures that delay access to information

  • Information Officer
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  • LRC
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Ministry of State for Anti-Corruption Affairs

Ministry of State for Anti-Corruption Affairs
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a request to the Ministry of State for Anti-Corruption Affairs on March 15, 2018. It responded through its minister on the same day, stating that the Ministry lacks personnel, which makes it impossible to assign an information officer. This, however, does not prevent the minister from responding to requests for information

Although there is no budget for the Ministry to establish a website, it has an official page on Facebook, which is dedicated to the Ministry’s activities. As for the documents that must be dutifully published, the Ministry replied that “such documents don’t even exist at the Ministry for them to be published”

If we were to compare both the Ministry of State for Displaced Affairs (MoSDA) and The Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) with the Ministry of State for Anti-Corruption Affairs, we find that both MoSDA and OMSAR have commissioned an information officer, unlike the Ministry of State for Anti-Corruption Affairs, even though all three bodies have the same resources and capabilities

It should be mentioned that the Ministry did not provide us with the name of its Facebook page, and despite our efforts to find it ourselves, we were not able to locate it online

  • Information Officer
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Tender Administration

Tender Administration
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a request to the Tender Administration, which administratively fall under the Central Inspection, on March 21, 2018. The administration responded through its director general on April ,10 2018, explaining that Abdul Menhem Singer was assigned as the information officer, and he is with whom we should communicate

The director general also stated that the administration publishes documents and information through its annual report, as well as in special reports whenever needed. A website for the administration has been launched, on which reports are published, in addition to all concessions executed by the administration

It is worth mentioning that we submitted a similar letter to the Central Inspection Administration, which is the supervisory authority directly responsible for the Tenders Administration. After several follow-ups with the registrar, however, even past deadline, we did not receive a response to our request. This raises many questions about the effectiveness of some administrations and how they differ from one another depending on the commitment of the employees within each administration, even if it is a subordinate administration. It is also worth noting that the Tenders Administration’s commitment to RLAW is a serious opportunity for researchers and journalists looking to examine the deals of the state and to uncover contracts and tenders that may be flawed

  • Abdul Menhem Singer
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High Relief Commission

High Relief Commission
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Higher Relief Commission on April 3, 2018 through registered mail. The commission responded through its secretary general on April 16, 2018 who referred us to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers as its supervisory authority and attached our request to his response

If we review previous responses, and select the Educational Center for Research and Development and the Central Fund for the Displaced for example, are two administrations that fall under the Presidency of the Council of Ministers’ supervisory authority, but who responded to our request and therefore have administrative autonomy that allows them to respond to such inquiries. This raises the question of whether the High Relief Commission views the right to access information as only applicable to the supervisory authorities. In other words, are the supervisory administrations the only authorities that answer information requests, while supervised administrations can only provide information after and through the consent of the supervisory authority?

As mentioned earlier, RLAW has defined what is meant by an “administration.” So what applies to the High Relief Commission is the third paragraph of Article 2 of RLAW, which includes «Independent Administrative Bodies» in addition to the ninth paragraph that refers to «other persons of public law.” However, even these provisions raise some suspicion. The law did not mention which administrations and bodies are subject to supervisory authority, raising issues when requesting information directly from these administrations and causing confusion among applicants. We found that some administrations decided to share information while others withheld it on the pretext that a supervisory authority exists

  • Information Officer
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North Lebanon Water Institution

North Lebanon Water Institution
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the North Lebanon Water Institution on April 3, 2018 through registered mail. The Institution responded through the director of administrative affairs, commissioned by the director general on April 12, 2018, through mail. In the response, he informed us about the website of the Institution, which includes some information such as projects executed by the Institution, in addition to publications that fall under the “Publications Duty” provisions of RLAW that were also posted on boards located in all centers of the Institution

As for the information officer, the Institution indicated that «the employee referred to in your request is being recruited.» Here, we must clarify that the law had mandated the assignment of an information officer and not appointing one. The difference between assigning and appointing someone is that in the former, new tasks are delegated to an current staff member, while in the latter a new employee is recruited, adding new financial burdens onto the administration’s budget

It would be more efficient to assign an employee rather than to appoint a new one, especially that the employee would already be familiar with the structure of the administration and knows how the information is archived and retrieved

  • Information Officer
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High Council for Privatization

High Council for Privatization
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the High Council for Privatization through registered mail. The Council received our request on April 3, 2018, and responded to us on April 25, 2018, through an English language email. The latter was sent by the information officer, Tarek Dandashli, who clarified his position in his response. In addition, he clarified that all laws, decrees and regulatory provisions relating to the Council will be published in the Official Gazette and provided us with the Council’s website

The information officer responded to us within 15 working days, as the deadline is calculated from the date of submission of the application, which includes working days only. While he informed us that the laws and decrees related to the Council are published by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, he did not respond to our request regarding the “Publication Duty” of the Council based on the provisions of RLAW. Despite the commitment of some administrations to the law, we still find that there is confusion between different issues. For example, we requested information on the application of RLAW’s “Publication Duty,” and not how the laws and decrees ratified by the parliament or government are published

  • Tarek Dandashli
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Directorate of Internal Security Forces

Directorate of Internal Security Forces
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a written request to the Directorate of Internal Security Forces (ISF) through registered mail. The Directorate received the request on May 8, 2018 and the general director responded to us on May 17, 2018. He explained that the ISF Service and Information Department receives varied types of applications, which are then processed and categorized by the relevant division in order to provide only information that does not constitute a breach of professional confidentiality

He added that the Directorate publishes documents on the Directorate›s website, which features an email service to receive citizens› messages and queries and provides other electronic services that facilitate access to information. It also uses other administration’s social media accounts to disseminate their communications and circulars

The first noteworthy observation is that the Directorate responded to our request despite the secrecy of its security work, while administrations that are not bound by secrecy or national security considerations did not respond to our simple requests, which should have already been made available without having to request it. Secondly, the Directorate committed to the legal deadline and answered within only eight working days, while other administrations exceeded the legal deadline, as will be shown later

The Directorate did not assign one person to review requests for information; rather, it asks those who want to apply for information to do so through the ISF’s Service and Information Division, which responds to such requests. Security reasons might be the reason behind the ISF’s decision not to disclose the name of the officer in charge of information requests at the Service and Information Division, but it is the duty of the Directorate to abide by the provisions of Article 15 of the Right to Access Information Law. The latter clearly stipulates that an employee is required to consider information requests so the process is clear to applicants and prevents them from falling into a bureaucratic maze. On the other hand, the Directorate did not mention in its response the dissemination of its financial operations that exceed 5 million LBP. It is true that their security work requires secrecy, but not all Directorate expenses are related to security. Administrative and logistics expenses should be published according to RLAW’s second paragraph of Article 7. In fact, at the time of writing this report, no Lebanese administration, except the Lebanese Petroleum Administration, had committed to the implementation of the previous article, as we’ll discuss further in the report. That is why officials in charge must push to enhance transparency and fight corruption in public administrations

  • Information Officer
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Directorate of Personal Status

Directorate of Personal Status
(Administrations were arranged by date of application)

We submitted a request to the Directorate General of Personal Status through registered mail. The Directorate received the request on May 8, 2018; the director general responded to us on May 17, 2018, explaining that the Directorate has «launched its own website on which all memos, circulars and administrative decisions issued by them will be published, including those of interest to citizens, and the documents required to obtain identity cards, registory directors, etc”

In its response, the Directorate of Personal Status did not mention an information officer tasked with receiving requests and therefore there is no specific employee to send applications to, so they must be submitted as if a normal request that will be answered by the director general. Although the same outcome could be expected in either case, the assignment of an employee specifically tasked with managing information requests would render the procedure less cumbersome for the average citizen

The Directorate and other public administrations and institutions that responded to our request did not address the provisions of the second paragraph of Article 7 of the law, which requires the publication of all the operations that cost over 5 million LBP of public funds

Therefore, the question arises as to why public administrations and institutions did not comply with this paragraph. Is it difficult to publish all these operations? Or is it because administrations do not have the will to publish such information?

Whatever the reason may be, public administrations and institutions must abide by the provisions of the law. Facing difficulties in publishing this information does not constitute a legal basis for not abiding by the provisions of RLAW. If it is a lack of will, administrations should commit to establishing and promoting standards for transparency to combat corruption in the public sector

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

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