Stakeholders call on government to implement the Access to Information Act

Around the world, access to information laws have transformed the relationship between citizens and their governments. When citizens understand what their government is doing, they can actually help it, and ultimately themselves. They can contribute useful and constructive ideas on how to improve society. Sometimes, that can involve uncovering corruption or waste. Often it is just about helping the government make sure its policies and plans are relevant to the local situation. Or it can help researchers to dig deeper and find new solutions to tough problems.

When citizens can monitor what’s going on, make comparisons and act, they gain a sense of purpose and control; a sense not only that things happen to us, but that we can make things happen.

Creating open societies, where citizens can freely access and share data and ideas, and choose their leaders and hold them accountable, creates a sense of belonging and gives people a stake in public affairs.

We, members of the Coalition on the Right to Information, again congratulate the Government on the passage of the Access to Information Act (2016), particularly for its consideration of some stakeholder comments and views on the law before it was passed.

However, we note with some dismay that regulations for this law still have not been prepared; the law has not been gazetted. Effectively we passed this law one year ago but as of now, we have been unable to make use of it.

In the run up to the International Day for Universal Access to Information (28 September), we call on the Government to begin a consultative process to prepare the regulations so these can be finalized as soon as possible. In the meantime, we call on the Government to gazette the legislation so it can be used even as regulations are being prepared.

Currently, citizens are unlikely to be able to access government information. In January / February of 2016, researchers posed as ordinary citizens and visited 131 government offices in 26 districts to seek specific types of information. The data collected are nationally representative. We find that these researchers successfully acquired the information they were looking for in 1 out of 3 cases (33%). This means that two out of three times when a citizen requests information from a government office, they will not receive that information. Although these data were collected before the passage of the Access to Information Act, given the slow pace of implementation there is no reason to suppose that results have changed significantly.

Based on past research, we would further like to draw attention to the following:

  • 84% of citizens supported the passage of the Access to Information Act in Parliament before it became law, showing that citizens want to access government information.
  • 77% of citizens believe that ordinary citizens should have access to information held by the government.
  • 80% of citizens believe that corruption and other wrongdoing would be reduced if citizens had more access to information.
  • 42% of citizens would be interested in having more information from the government about different sectors and services.

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