Print

How are laws implemented?

A law is not enough

A law on access is essential but is not enough; by itself it will do little to change a closed, secret, elitist environment into an open democracy. Lack of political will is perhaps the most serious obstacle to transforming government from closed to open. This most often manifests in delays operationalising access legislation once it is enacted. Delays send mixed signals of government intention and pander to the penchant for secrecy. Often justified on grounds that time is needed to put in place systems to enable efficient information-giving, delays often mask a battle against openness being waged within the bureaucracy. Delays can range between the reasonable, such as in Australia and Canada where laws were operationalised within a year of enactment, and the unreasonable, such as the United Kingdom, which has been heavily criticised for insisting on a five year gap to get its house in order when it has already had in place a working code of access applicable to all central government-held information since 1994. In India too, the national law has been passed by parliament but has not been brought into force. In a country notoriously slow to implement bureaucratic change, this does not auger well.

There must be a demonstrable commitment to access by leaders

Change happens only when there is unequivocal political commitment to tearing down all barriers to access and consciously espousing well-crafted and deliberate strategies that can support each element of a new regime that will uphold ransparency, accountability and participation. Political leaders must set the tone and send a strong message of openness to official and the public alike by unequivocally throwing their support behind open governance reforms.

Bureaucratic resistance needs to be deliberately tackled

Cultures of bureaucratic secrecy stand as major roadblocks to openness. They are difficult to change as they are deeply embedded in the official psyche. This is as much true of countries that have had legislation in place for decades as it is for those that have enacted laws more recently. Experience shows that opening up is hard to do. A review in 1995 of the Australian federal access law found that, even after thirteen years in operation, the bureaucracy still had not universally accepted the Act as an integral part of democracy[1]