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International Experiences in Freedom of Information Presentation at the FOI Retreat Cayman Islands By Sohini Paul Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

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Presentation on theme: "International Experiences in Freedom of Information Presentation at the FOI Retreat Cayman Islands By Sohini Paul Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative."— Presentation transcript:

1 International Experiences in Freedom of Information Presentation at the FOI Retreat Cayman Islands By Sohini Paul Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative July 2008

2 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Spread of Freedom of Information Laws Historic Pioneers : countries that passed laws before the world wide wave of democratization of the 1980s Sweden (1766), Finland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, USA, France, Columbia FOI laws as part of process of democratic transition and/or drafting of a new Constitution Philippines, Spain, Portugal, S. Africa, Mexico, Nepal, 22 countries that had been a part of the Soviet Union

3 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Spread of FOI laws Countries with long democratic histories Austria, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Greece, UK, Switzerland, Germany Countries that have not experienced recent democratic transitions India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Belize, Antigua & Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago, Peru, Panama, Dominican Republic, Cayman Islands, Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Turkey

4 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative International Experiences : a Universal Right Right to Information a UN-mandated universal human right. UN General Assembly, 1946: Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all other rights to which the UN is consecrated

5 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Global Spread of FOI Laws

6 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative International Experiences: Best practice principles Maximum disclosure Minimum exemptions subject to public interest test Simple, quick and cheap access procedures Effective enforcement: Independent appeals mechanisms and penalties Monitoring and promotion of open governance

7 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Implementation of Right to Information (RTI) Act in India Central Government took lead to implement it- States were slow-particularly where different political alliance was in power; Nodal agency made responsible in every Government for ensuring implementation; Public Information Officers (PIOs) and appellate authorities have been designated; and Proactive disclosure is a non starter at district, block and village level where most people have info. needs.

8 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Implementation of RTI Act in India No implementation guidelines yet especially at the state level despite the passage of two and a half years; Requestors troubles start at the application stage itself-reasons are asked;PIO is not at his seat; payment of fees is at times cumbersome; First appellate authority is not effective in giving satisfactory decisions- tendency to agree with PIO Information Commissions are piling up huge backlog; and ICs are mostly headed by retired bureaucrats- erodes peoples faith.

9 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Implementation of RTI Act in India Deliberate delays means – information is not available in real time Brighter side- People in faraway village and towns are using this law to unearth corruption, poor decision-making; CSOs have taken RTI on board- training of govt, NGOs, citizens, lawyers, media, public education, policy advocacy, monitoring of implementation, research; Business community and serving/retired govt. employees are using the Act more; and Bureaucrats are thinking twice before taking decisions arbitrarily.

10 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Issues re implementation of FOI laws Passing a FOI law is fundamental but insufficient. Implementation of regime is crucial : necessary to develop broad based public support A good access to information regime requires civil society engagement Govt. responsible for implementation: strong political will and leadership within govt., establish strong and independent oversight body, train officials in RTI procedures

11 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Issues re implementation of FOI laws Look deeper into ATI laws: track and learn from experiences- workability of laws. Users must have knowledge of the law, procedures involved; should be persistent; govt. must invest in administrative capabilities and staff training

12 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Best Practices: Promotion of access to information By Government in Mexico: Federal law on Transparency and ATI, 2002; Established an Information Commission (IFAI) with a budget of USD 22 million; 5 commissioners; IFAI works with govt. officials & civil society to activate Mexicos legislation; and Developed a one stop web portal for filing information requests with federal bodies and track the status of request– SISI.

13 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Best practices: Promotion of access to information By civil society in Bulgaria: by Access to Information Programme since 1996 Conducts training workshops (200-300 civil servants) each year; Publishes handbooks/annual reports; Assists administration in elaborating internal rules & systems for transparency; Makes policy recommendations; and Public interest litigations and challenging refusals.

14 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Case Studies on the use of FOI laws

15 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Information exposes gender bias in the BBC The Issue The legal entitlement of equal pay for equal work for women has been slow to become a practical reality (Equal Pay Act 1970); Statistics in 2004 pointed to huge inequalities and in some areas the gap was still growing in the UK (24% less); A virtual glass ceiling for women managers; and BBC comes under scrutiny. Intervention An anonymous application is submitted for information under UKs FOI Act in 2006. Impact Information was released and it confirmed a huge difference between male and female news reporters salaries.

16 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Information exposes gender bias in the BBC Discovery BBC paid female correspondents an average of 6,500 pounds a year less than their male colleagues; Action taken Women and Work Commissions report Shaping a Fairer Future in February 2006 ; Government made recommendations for all public bodies to implement a two-year plan- closing gender pay gap; 45% of all large organizations are required to undertake pay reviews by 2008; and BBC announced it will undertake a thorough pay review to identify any discrepancies within the organization.

17 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Clearing muddied water: Groups in India fight corruption with info. The Issue Elected member of local govt. while building his house erects a wall around a well which was donated by his father to the village; Local people ask the member not to cut off their access to water; They file complaints with village chiefs and higher levels of govt. Intervention Regional transparency group along with CHRI provides help to citizens for obtaining information under the law; RTI application filed with the groups help; and Locals followed up the earlier complaints. Action taken Revenue officials inspect disputed property, confirm encroachment and allow demolition of wall.

18 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Disclosure force government to improve care standards for Jamaicas children The Problem Proportion of children and young people living in poverty in Jamaica is one of the highest in the world; Govt. set up childrens homes for providing care and protection to children in need; and There is no way to know if the children are protected in the state run homes. Civil Society Intervention Access to Information Act enacted in 2002; Civil Society groups make formal requests to Child Development Agency (CDA) AND Ministry of Health; and File monthly requests to CDA for reports monitoring state of homes- moderated by Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ).

19 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Disclosure force government to improve care standards for Jamaicas children Impact and Action taken CDA released information which formed the basis of JFJ report, The situation of children under the care of Jamaican state Report generated intense public pressure on the govt. to improve the state of childrens homes; It forced the government to commission an official review which became The Keating Report: A review of childrens homes and places of safety in Jamaica, made public in 2004; Report makes it clear that govt. is accountable for the child abuses and owed the children a duty of care; In Oct 2006, JFJ presents their report to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights- resulted in a meeting of the Jamaican authorities with members of the Office of the Chidrens Advocate (OCA) IN Nov 2006;

20 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Challenges for the future Changing paradigms around the concept of information: transition to digitised information Tendency towards backlash by govt. and politicians against strong FOI laws only a few years after they are passed: Eg: reforms introduced to the Irish FOI Act 1997 in 2003- increase user fees, add new exemptions; In India in 2006- remove file notings, increase exemptions Increasing concerns with national security esp. after Sept.11. Terrorism seems to make just about any area of govt. crucial for national security. Eg. Under pressure from NATO wave of new FOI laws in central and Eastern Europe have been accompanied by simultaneous State Secrets Laws.

21 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Suggestions for implementing FOI Entrenching a culture of openness Keeping political will strong - developing a plan of action with implementation tasks, agencies responsible, strict timelines. Nodal agencies/implementation units Harnessing government-community partnerships-using NGOs as training resources Crafting a supportive legislative regime Overriding inconsistent legislation Old official secrets acts undermine openness Civil service rules can inhibit bureaucrats All other laws need to be consistent Enacting supporting laws which promote openness Effective subordinate rules

22 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Suggestions for implementing FOI Putting in place good systems Developing guidance resources for officials. Eg. In Jamaica the ATI unit produced a step-by-step manual for public officers; In UK ICs guidance series explaining exemptions, dealing with appeals etc. Producing templates: implementing proactive disclosure duties Designing systems which promote compliance- use of govt. websites, intranet. In Canada federal govt. collects details of all applications submitted to all agencies, makes one document and publishes on-line Improving records management Meeting the challenge of information delivery

23 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Thank you CHRI Contact Details Ph: 91+11+ 2652-8152, 2685-0523 Fax: 91+11+ 2686-4688 Email: chriall@nda.vsnl.net.in orchriall@nda.vsnl.net.in sohini@humanrightsinitiative.org Website: www.humanrightsinitiative.org


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