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7 Freedom of Information Laws Pass in Past Year; 18 More Under Consideration
Source: freedominfo
Source Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Focus: ICT for MDGs
Created: Oct 11, 2011

Freedom of information laws were created in seven countries in the year since the last Right to Know Day, notable positive changes were recorded in four other countries and active efforts to pass laws are under way in about 18 nations, according to a FreedomInfo.org survey.

Since International RTK Day 2010, first-time laws were adopted in: El Salvador, Guinea Canakry, Guyana, Jersey, Liberia, Nigeria and Mongolia.

In addition, significant pro-access developments occurred in other countries, including administrative decrees in Tunisia and Niger. The Chinese and Ugandan governments took administrative steps toward greater openness.

In 18 countries, efforts to pass new laws are ongoing, with some countries seemingly poised to pass FOI laws.

On the other hand, negative transparency proposals surfaced in a handful of countries, some successful, and efforts to reform existing access regimes, while fruitful in the Ukraine, often ran into opposition.

Overall, the level of activity appears higher than that recorded in the previous year.

In last year’s FreedomInfo.org’s tally showed that a dozen countries were considering adoption of FOI laws and only one country, Bermuda, had adopted a law.

Now in its ninth year, International Right to Know Day was begin by FOI Advocates in 2003 and is celebrated in dozens of countries with activities ranging from seminars and conferences to awards for best and worst practices by government officials.

Another significant development over the yearwas the creation of the multinational Open Government Partnership. (See FreedomInfo.org overview.)

New Laws: West Africa Active

After an 11-year campaign, the signing of a FOI law May 28 in Nigeria came soon after passage of a harmonized version by the Assembly. The law has been praised by advocates and set an example followed by one Nigerian state, Ekiti, which approved its own FOI law.

In October, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed into law the Liberian Freedom of Information Bill.

Almost unnoticed, an access law for Guinea Canakry was issued in November 2010 by the outgoing military government.

Most recently, Guyana’s National Assembly passed a long-awaited bill that is expected to be signed soon.

Mongolia in June adopted its Law on Information Transparency and Right and Freedom to Access Information.

The Jersey Assembly in May approved a FOI law, but decided it will not go into force until the end of 2015.

And in March, El Salvador’s legislative assembly approved a Law on Access to Public Information.

Administrative Actions in Tunisia, Niger

In several other countries, pro-transparency efforts came outside the legislative process.

In Tunisia, a Decree on Access to Administrative Documents was issued in May, although the exemptions were criticized as too broad.

The transitional government in Niger in March issued a “Charte d’accès à l’information publique et aux documents administratifs” instructing administrative bodies on releasing information.

Other Positive Moves

In Morocco, voters in July approved a new constitution that includes a provision on access to information. Transparency activists hope to have an access law on the books by the end of 2012.

In January, the Ukrainian parliament adopted new two new laws much improving existing laws on access to public information.

Also positive were changes in China an Uganda.

As of August, Chinese citizens will be able to sue the central government and local governments if their requests for information are denied and in July officials urged local officials to be more open.

And Uganda finally issued regulations to implement its FOI law, although they have been criticized subsequently.

In addition, several subnational jurisdictions have adopted FOI laws: Selangor in Malaysia and Ekiti in Nigeria.

Tantalizingly Close: Efforts to Pass Laws Under Way

The prospects of more new laws being passed in the coming year is real.

Promising signals from officials, however, don’t always translate into prompt action, as frustrated activists have found in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, the Philippines, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, to name a few. Still, on all those countries the process is seemingly advanced.

Perhaps the most resounding defeat came in Sri Lanka, but in many other countries, official resistance is strong.

Efforts to Pass Laws Ongoing in 18 Countries

In addition, FreedomInfo.org in the past year has written about pro-FOI drives in 18 countries.

The list reflects some government pledge or other significant official development. There are other countries in which advocacy efforts are building but harder to track.

The countries in which FOI bills seems under active consideration are: Argentina, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, the Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

Below are thumbnail sketches, with links to the FreedomInfo.org archive.

Argentina Tangle

Progress on an Argentinean FOI law appears to have ground to a halt in the House after the September passage of a bill by the Senate.

Bahamas Bill Promised

A key minister in the Bahamas recently pledged to bring a bill up soon.

Bolivia Has Draft Bill

In Bolivia, a draft Bolivian freedom of information legislation was proposed by the Bolivian Ministry of Transparency and Combating, but has not moved forward.

Botswana Talks

With a leading minority party figure pushing FOI legislation, activists held strategy discussions in April, but there is no immediate likelihood of passage.

Brazil Bill Stymied

When new President Dilma Rousseff made passage of a FOI bill by early May a priority, activists’ hopes were raised, but momentum waned and most recently a powerful senator made more explicit the changes he wished to make.

Second Draft in Cambodia

The opposition party in Cambodia proposed FOI legislation in December, and now has developed a second draft.

Colombia Bill Urged by Activists

Transparency activists in Colombia took a step forward this year by proposing a draft bill, although no immediate legislative action is on the horizon.

Delays in Ghana

Parliamentarians delayed holding public consultations on the RTI bill in Ghana until this summer and now it looks like a bill may not be considered until 2012.

Kazakhstan Bill May Pass in 2012

FOI legislation in Kazakhstan will not be considered until 2012, according to a key member of Parliament, who said in August that further drafting work is necessary.

Mali: Plan Developing

Mali’s minister of communication in July committed to support an action plan to promote the right to information in the country.

Morocco Bill Expected

In Morocco, voters in July approved a new constitution that includes a provision on access to information. Transparency activists hope to have an access law on the books by the end of 2012.

Mozambique

Back in October, parliamentarians from all three major parties promised to bring a bill up soon in Mozambique, but in May the Mozambican chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa in May condemned the subsequent inactivity.

Aguino Holds Up Action in Philippines

Continuing doubts by President Benigno Aguino are holding up progress on legislation in the Philippines, where approval was narrowly averted in June 2010. Although Aguino has said he supports FOI, he has indicated that he has problems with the specifics. He ordered the drafting of a bill of his own but has not proposed his own version.

Rwanda Cabinet Backs Bill

The Rwandan Cabinet in June approved an access to information bill and supporters were hoping for it to be signed into law in late September.

Senegal: Leaders Make Pledge

Key members of the Senegalese government told FOI activists they support adopting legislation, but the process has not advanced very far.

Promises in Sierra Leone

Throughout 2011, the government pledged to pass the FOI bill, but no action has followed. The most recent promise came from the president.

Spanish Bill Offered

The Spanish Cabinet issued a much-awaited bill, which promptly drew criticisms as inadequate.

Sri Lankan Government Defeats Bill

The Sri Lankan parliament in June defeated an opposition party proposal for a FOI law and the ruling party promised once again to make its own proposal.

Tanzanian Promises

A top Tanzanian official said in January that the government wants to pass a FOI law.

Efforts to Undermine Laws Ongoing

In atleast seven countries, notably France, India, Holland, Hungary, Mexico, Poland and South Africa, the past year has seen anti-transparency efforts.

So far the only such legislation that has passed was in Hungary. The Indian Cabinet limited the application of the law without legislative action.

Getting the most attention, and triggering a substantial public outcry, were proposals by the South African government which are expected to ultimately pass.

Committee passage of the controversial Protection of Information Bill, which would expand government controls over information, came in early September. More recently, however, the ruling party delayed a vote on what critics call “the secrecy bill.”

Poland: In July, the government proposed cutbacks to the Polish law. The amendments would prevent the disclosure of documents used in the preparation of official positions regarding the commercialization or privatization of property, court proceedings and international negotiations. A last-minute addition as the approved bill has caused Polish opponents to urge that it be vetoed.

Holland: The Dutch Home Affairs Minister in May suggested that the government will propose limitations on use of Holland’s Openness of Government Act, primarily to protect information about predecisional deliberations. A hearing in Parliament is planned for Sept. 29 and a debate in Parliament could occur this fall.

Hungary: A new Hungarian law passed in June contains some positive provisions, according to local acivists, but also many negative changes such as more regulation of classified information.

India: The Indian Cabinet in June decided to exempt the Central Bureau of Investigation from the Right to Information Act, leading to law suits, but legal development so far support the cabinet.

France: An effort in France to amend France’s security and access to information laws to require background behavior checks on users of government information was been withdrawn in December.

Mexico: In Mexico last November, efforts to cut the budget of the FOI administrative body were repulsed.

Enhancement Efforts Fare Poorly

Some improvements to existing laws have been recorded in the past year, notably in January when the Ukraine parliament adopted new two new laws much improving existing access to public information statutes. They mandate that public officials voluntarily disclose information while also establishing a system for requesting information, all subject to various limitations.

On the flip side, many proposals to improve laws have stagnated.

Pending proposals for change exist in countries including: Azerbaijan, the Cayman Islands, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and probably others.

Azerbaijan Proposals Made

Ideas for amending the Azerbaijan access to information law, for improving administration of the law and for enhancing proactive public access to information are among the recommendations contained in a recent report.

Suggestions Offered in Cayman Island

The Cayman Island’s information commissioner in May proposed modifications to the 2007 law.

Indian Sports Minister Rebuked

An effort by the Indian sports minister to extend RTI to sports federations was spiked by the Cabinet.

Ireland Commissioner Makes Proposals

The Irish information commissioner recommended that the scope of the law be expanded to cover more public bodies, but no legislative action has resulted.

Jamaica Reform Bill May Get Drafted

The Jamaican Parliament this summer passed the report of the committee that reviewed the Access to Information Act and recommended significant strengthening. The Cabinet is expected to consider reform proposals and present a bill to the Parliament.

Japan: Disaster Interrupts

Natural disasters in Japan diverted all attention from issues such as draft FOI reform legislation, but activists are hopeful that an opportunity still exists to pass changes.

Mexico Reform Effort Stymied

A package of reforms to improve the Mexican law are stuck until after the elections, according to activists.

Reforms Offered in New Zealand

New Zealand’s Law Commission in October proposed reforms.

Pakistan: Promises Unfulfilled

Periodic official pledges to introduce a freedom of information law in Pakistan, such as one in January, have not materialized. Pakistan now operates with a 2002 ordinance.

United Kingdom Moves Toward Openness

The United Kingdom government Jan. 7 proposed reforms to the U.K. FOI law that would extend its scope to more organizations and hasten the release of archived material, along with a few new restrictions. In July, the government ordered the release of more information on the performance of government agencies. And in August, a public consultation was begun on open data.

United States Strengthening on Hold

The U.S. Senate in May passed a bill to establish a Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays, but it is being blocked by Republicans, now in control of the House.
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