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Right to Information

 

News Updates (Archives) - 2006

UK: The Department for Constitutional Affairs has released a consultation paper outlining plans to restrict access rights under the 2000 Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. The proposed amendment would extend the £600 (£450 for public authorities) processing limit to include the cost of officials’ time and would require multiple requests made by an individual, company or organisation to be treated as one. The Campaign for Freedom of Information has publicly condemned the proposed changes claiming they would severely limit access to ‘newsworthy’ information likely to cause political embarrassment to the government. Comments on the consultation paper are due by 8 March 2006; the amendments will take effect from 19 March 2006. (18/12/06)

International: CHRI has submitted its comments on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's (EBRD's) Implementation Procedures for its Public Information Policy (PIP). The EBRD had released the Procedures for public comment on 6 November. CHRI's submission recommends that the Bank not make the use of application forms for requests a requirement, restrict the criteria for justifying the extension time for responding to requests and establish an independent Information Ombudsman to ensure impartiality and independence in the review process. The Global Transparency Initiative has also submitted its recommendations, while the EBRD's Secretary General committed to a full review of the PIP in 2007 to Article 19 and other NGOs during a meeting at the Bank on 28 November 2006. (15/12/2006)

South Africa: In a recent decision regarding the application of the Public Access to Information (PATI) Act, the South African Supreme Court not only granted the applicant access to the requested records held by South African Airways (SAA), but also awarded a punitive costs order against SAA. In its judgement, the Court expressed frustration with various authorities’ consistent disregard for the purpose of the Act and unreasonable refusals to allow access to records - often resulting in unnecessary litigation. The punitive costs order was made to mark the Court's displeasure with the SAA's persistent and ungrounded refusal to grant access to the information held as such is an important decision for future interpretation of the Act. (12/12/06)

Cayman Islands: The Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly is expected to consider the Freedom of Information Bill at their next meeting, which should occur early in 2007. The Cayman Islands Government released a draft Bill in 2005 which has since been the subject of public consultation and review. The final version of the Bill has not yet been made public but its progress was discussed at the recent Caribbean conference on Freedom of Information held in Dominica. (12/12/06)

Sierra Leone: A coalition of over 50 civil society groups will join together today to collect the signatures and thumbprints of one million Sierra Leoneans in support of making the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill law. The Freedom of Information Coalition for Sierra Leone will hold a ceremony to collect the signatures and place pressure on MPs to recognise the importance of FOI. Secretary General of the Coalition Oswald Hanciles said enactment of the bill was a crucial step in tackling corruption in Sierra Leone and would help to “emancipate [citizens] from decades of being kept in perpetual darkness.” (08/12/06)

Canada: Long serving House of Commons clerk Robert Marleau has been named as the new Information Commissioner, filling the role vacated in September by former Information Commissioner John Reid after his term had ended. Reid had gained notoriety for criticising the Conservative Government’s Federal Accountability Act, which proposed reforms to the federal access to information regime. The Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), has criticised the choice, fearing that Marleau’s bureaucratic history may restrict his capacity to independently criticise the government’ s decisions and to fight for the power to make orders rather than only offer recommendations to Parliament on the implementation of the Act. (08/12/06)

Jamaica: Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has advised civil servants to adhere to the Official Secrets Act (OSA), despite earlier government claims that the Act contravened the 2002 Access to Information Act, and would be repealed. Concerned that the opposition may utilise MP’s personal information to create government scandals, the PM warned officials at a staff meeting “I (am) just warning you, staff, be careful, there is something known as the Secrecy Act and there (is) information, particularly information relating to people's personal affairs, their bio data, their medical records, nobody has the right to be leaking information on people."
Earlier this year Senator Trevor Munroe publicly condemned the OSA, while former Information Minister Colin Campbell promised that its repeal was imminent. (05/12/06)

International: The Anders Chydenius Foundation has released a report on The World's First Freedom of Information Act - Anders Chydenius's Legacy Today. The report marks the 240th anniversary of the world's first freedom of information act - Sweden's Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press (1766) and Chydenius's role in its enactment. The report includes a translation of the Act into English and articles reflecting on the state of freedom of information today. (02/12/06)

Scotland: The Court of Session has upheld the first appeal made to it under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) in which the Information Commissioner called upon the NHS Common Services Agency to release information on the incidence of childhood leukaemia in certain jurisdictions. In its ruling, the Court of Session confirmed the Commissioner's views that such information could be disclosed, provided it was done so in a form that would not risk patient identification. The decision confirms the Commissioner has a wide discretion in deciding the form in which information can be released. (01/12/06)

Scotland: The Scottish Information Commissioner's fourth survey of public awareness indicates an increase in public awareness of their right to information since the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 came into force in 2005. Findings suggest that since the last survey, citizens have gained more confidence in the amount of information available to them and are less likely to believe the authorities will try to find ways of avoiding their duties under the Act. However, the survey also suggests a decrease in the number of citizens who believe that the Act has led to increased levels of openness and accountability within public authorities. (01/12/06)

Fiji: Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has failed to table the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, despite last week's cabinet decision for the bill to become law. Local NGO, the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity (PCPI) has condemned the Government for its failure to table the Bill, especially because the prime minister has expressed his shame about government corruption but has done very little in terms of passing legislation, such as the FOI Bill, that would help combat graft. The PCPI also noted that a strong FOI Law would provide the public with the power to hold the government accountable and transparent for its actions. (30/11/2006)

Africa: ARTICLE 19 has developed a checklist that can be used by civil society organisations to analyse the extent to which African countries have implemented the Declaration on Freedom of Expression in Africa. The checklist can be used to research and write shadow reports that can be submitted to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights and can help civil society organizations to establish priorities for freedom of expression campaigns and advocacy initiatives. (22/11/06)

Canada: Justice Minister Vic Toews has stated that "it is not in the public interest" to challenge a Supreme Court ruling that found that key parts of the Security of Information Act were unconstitutionally vague and overly broad. The ruling was made in a case against news reporter, Julie O'Neill, in which the Royal Canadian Mounted Police obtained search warrants under section 4 of the Security of Information Act to raid the reporter's home and work place. The Government's decision not to appeal is likely to lead to a re-drafting of the contentious law and further pressures to revise the country's anti-terrorism legislation. (17/11/06)

International: Access Info Europe, Article 19 and the Open Society Justice Initiative are calling on the Council of Europe to ensure that the European treaty on Access to Information provides a strong safeguard of the right to information. A joint briefing has been released which argues that the working document sets lower standard than the practice in most countries in the region and should be drafted to guarantee the right of "access to information" held by public authorities, rather than the narrower right of access to "official documents" currently envisaged, and extend the scope of the treaty beyond the executive branch of government to legislative bodies, judicial authorities and private bodies which are substantially financed by public funds. The briefing also urged the working group to draft a treaty that will ensure that the prospective State parties will have to bring their legislations at par with international best practice. (16/11/06)

Nigeria: The Senate has unanimously passed the Freedom of Information Bill 2005. In order to become law, the Bill must now be harmonised with the version previously passed by the House of Representatives before it is sent to the President for his assent. The President will have 30 days to give assent, failing which the Bill will be returned to the National Assembly where it can be passed into law by a two-thirds majority of the members. (15/11/06)

Kenya: At a public forum held in Nairobi by the local section of the International Commission of Jurists, participants called for the Official Secrets Act to be repealed and for the Government to give them access to information in order to allow the public to make more informed decisions about issues affecting their lives. Recognising the role that information can have in tackling corruption and enhancing democracy, forum speakers also encouraged the Government to pass the Freedom of Information Bill which has already been tabled in Parliament by Professor Anyang Nyong'o. (11/11/06)

Ghana: The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) members have put Ghana on probation for the certification for export of illicit diamonds originating from Cote d’Ivoire. The move by KPCS, which imposes clear regulations for the international trade of rough diamonds, has been supported by Article 19 who has called on Ghana to implement the Kimberley Process requirements.These include providing information regarding laws and regulations in place to end the illicit diamond trade and enact the Freedom of Information Bill that is currently tabled in Parliament. (10/11/06)

International: The European Commission is publishing a webpage that includes links to member state websites that contain information about payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The initiative is part of the European Commission's commitment to the European Transparency Initiative (ETI), and builds on its other recent commitments to transparency and dissemination of information including the creation of other websites disclosing information on EU grants and public contracts. (08/11/06)

Fiji: The Cabinet has approved in principle the draft Freedom of Information Bill. The Cabinet Sub-committee on Legislation is expected to clear the draft for re-submission to the Cabinet on 21 November. The draft Bill proposes that the Office of the Ombudsman will be responsible for administering the Bill which, according to Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, will require amendments to the Constitution to expand the Ombudsman's role. (07/11/06)

International: Article 19 has condemned the UNDP Public Information and Documentation Oversight Panel for its refusal to provide information on a request for documents relating to the development of the communications strategy for the 2004 Arab Human Development Report. The request was originally made in 2004 by US-based academic Alastair Roberts and was refused later that year. Roberts then filed an appeal with the Panel, which took until October 2006 to reject it. The panel refused to hand over a single document on the basis of "distinction between disclosure of documents and disclosure of information". Article 19 states that the decision renders the UNDP's disclosure policy irrelevant. (30/10/06)

St Kitts and Nevis: The National Assembly on Thursday will make the first readings of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI Bill) and the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Bill. The FOI Bill will guarantee everyone the right of access to information, while also promoting maximum disclosure in the public interest, and will provide for effective mechanisms to implement this right. The second Bill recognises the right of privacy of individuals with respect to their personal information. The Bills are also open to public consultation. (25/10/06)

United Kingdom: The Campaign for Freedom of Information (FOI) has written to all MPs requesting them to sign a Parliamentary motion expressing concerns that the Government may be considering to introduce fees for applications under the FOI Act. The motion follows the recent leaking of a memo which indicated that the Government wanted to make it easier for authorities to
reject applications on cost grounds or to introduce charges. The Campaign has also issued a press release on the issue, stating that 13% of requests curently with the Government could be refused on these grounds. (17/10/06)

India: Protests were held by civil society activists during the opening night of a three-day National Convention held in Delhi to mark the first anniversary of the Right to Information Act coming into operation. The protests were aimed at the Central Information Commission for not not doing enough to ensure that the Act is implemented properly by public officials. A number of activists were arrested for holding up banners during an inauguration speech held by President Abdul Kalam, prompting a boycott of the Convention by civil society groups. (16/10/06)

International: The Global Transparency Initiative has released its latest publication Behind Closed Doors: Secrecy in International Financial Institutions (IFIs). The report documents the results of a survey conducted in Argentina, Bulgaria, Mexico, Slovakia and South Africa of information requests made to IFIs and Governments. The study found that only 22% of 120 requests made led to full disclosure while a large number of requests were simply ignored. (14/10/06)

Americas: The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has handed down the first decision of an international tribunal to recognise the human right to access information. In Claude Reyes et al v Chile, the Court held that Chile was in violation of the right of access to state-held information (under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights) by not providing information in response to a specific request, and by not having an effective mechanism to guarantee the right of all persons to request and receive information held by government bodies. The Court ordered the release of the information and the giving of reasons for any information not released. It also required Chile to adopt legal and other measures that ensure effective exercise of the right to information, including defining limited exemptions, setting deadlines for providing the information and requiring Chile to train public officials on the right to information. (13/10/06)

International: The Publish What You Pay coalition, which campaigns for transparency in the handling of revenues paid to resource-rich developing country governments by the energy and mining industries, has released a new report examining progress with implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). 'Eye on the EITI' underlines steps required to ensure the EITI's implementation, including allocating sufficient budgetary funding for the EITI, appointing someone to lead EITI implementation and meeting EITI commitments with time bound actions. The report found that while Nigeria had made good progress with implementing EITI, over half of the governments that endorsed the EITI had failed to match their rhetoric with actions. (11/10/2006)

Canada: The Federal Government has been found to be "amber lighting" politically sensitive requests under the Access to Information Act. Amber lighting is a process by which senior management are notified of upcoming access to information releases that may attract media or political attention. A leaked email was sent to a researcher investigating the practice. Previous research from 2003 had already highlighted amber lighting as a government-wide system to flag politically sensitive access to information requests. At that time, current Prime Minister - then leader of the opposition - Stephen Harper condemned the practice, saying it smacked of political interference in the access to information process. (10/10/06)

Malaysia: The Centre for Independent Journalists has created an online petition calling for a Malaysian Freedom of Information Act. The petition, which can be signed by Malaysian citizens and residents, calls on the Government of Malaysia to pass a comprehensive freedom of information law in accordance with minimum standards detailed in the petition. (06/10/06)

Tanzania: President Jakaya M. Kikwete has announced that his Government is currently developing a law that will guarantee access to information. He stated that consultation is currently being undertaken on the draft legislation, which he intends to table before the National Assembly in April 2007. (05/10/06)

Malaysia: A Freedom of Information (FOI) campaign was launched on International Right to Know Day on 28 September by the local FOI coalition. The campaign aims to lobby for the drafting and enactment of a national FOI Act. Two years ago, the coalition had agreed on ten principles that were required to make access to information meaningful for the public. FOI Coalition secretariat spokesman Sonia Randhawa said she was optimistic about the campaign's prospects because of the Government's commitment to fighting corruption and increasing transparency and openness. Randhawa also noted that PAS party Vice-President Datuk Husam Musa made a public commitment to pass an access to information law in the state of Kelantan. (03/10/06)

Nigeria: The Senate Ad Hoc Committee on the Freedom of Information Bill has completed its report on the Bill and presented it to the Senate. The Bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in August 2004, can now be read a third and final time and debated in the Senate before being passed as law. It is anticipated the debate will occur within the next few weeks. (03/10/06)

Africa: Media Rights Agenda and the Open Society Justice Initiative last week held a two-day workshop in Lagos on Freedom of Information (FOI) in Africa. The workshop was attended by a number of FOI activists and civil society organisations from across Africa and included representatives from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya and Uganda. Presentations were given on the status of FOI in West Africa and participants discussed the possibility of establishing a regional Freedom of Information Centre to assist networking and collaborative activities and also discuss and strengthen advocacy and monitoring strategies. (03/10/06)

International: The Open Society Justice Initiative has released a report surveying 1,900 information requests in fourteen countries, including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. The report, entitled Transparency and Silence found that newer democracies, especially those of Eastern Europe, outperformed their more established counterparts in providing information on government activities. Notably, South Africa performed poorly with nearly half of requests made receiving no response. The book also found that governments were very inconsistent in answering requests with identical requests receiving different responses 57% of the time. (02/10/06)

Pakistan: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) held a two day Regional Conference on Freedom of Information (FOI) Regime: Making the Right to Information a Reality. The conference brought together FOI activists and implementers from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to share experiences of promoting and implementing the right to information and discuss ways to improve Pakistan's existing FOI regime. The eleven-point declaration that was issued at the conclusion of the conference underlined the need to bring the country's existing FOI laws in accordance with international best practices. (01/10/2006)

International: The Global Transparency Initiative (GTI) has published a report Assessing World Bank Openness: A Transparency Scorecard. The report assesses the operational transparency of the World Bank and its lending arms - the International Financial Corporation and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency - against the GTI Charter principles of transparency. (01/10/06)

Uganda: The Foundation for Human Rights Initiatives and Ministry of Information held a two-day roundtable conference on Fostering 'Open Government' through Access to Information in Kampala. Participants included senior government representatives, civil society organisations and the media. The roundtable focused on how to effectively implement the Access to Information Act which came into force last April. Participants found that implementation had been difficult owing to a lack of resources and funding. CHRI's representative presented on strategies to implement the law on a tight budget. The final declaration from the conference highlighted areas requiring urgent attention to improve implementation such as identifying and appointing public information officers and drawing up regulations and guidelines for seeking and giving information. (01/10/06)

Australia: The Premier of the state of Tasmania has announced that his Government will implement a number of governance reforms aimed at increasing the levels of accountability, transparency and responsibility in Government. The reforms include increasing the independence of the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General and removing the existing requirements that allow companies to insist on confidentiality in their contracts with the Government on the basis of commercial interest. If the reforms are passed, Tasmania will have an unprecedented level of transparency in Government not seen in the rest of Australia. (30/09/06)

South Africa: The South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has launched a cross-sectoral information officers' forum in order to help improve effective implementation of the Promotion of the Access to Information Act especially at the municipal level. SAHR noted that the forum was required to improve public access to information where municipalities in particular have been non-compliant with the Act. Participants at the launch also agreed to open a portal on the PAIA website which would explain what information the public should be entitled to in order to raise public awareness and that of officials who often do not know themselves what information they can disclose. (28/09/2006)

South Africa: The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) initiated the South African Golden Key Awards which recognise government departments, government officers, private institutions and individuals who work to promote openness, transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors through the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). The awards recognise best practice in using and complying with the PAIA. The Department of Defence won the award for 2006, receiving the highest score of all 28 National Government Departments, while the departments for Health, Home Affairs and Labour, which serve the largest number of citizens, ranked the lowest. (28/09/06)

Jamaica: The Government of Jamaica has yet to find a new Director for their Access to Information (ATI) Unit, which was set up to monitor the Access to Information Act. The post has been left vacant since July 2005 when the first director, Aylair Livingstone did not renew her contract. The Government can give no reason for the delay, but states that it is in the process of recruiting someone. The delay has severely compromised the ATI Unit’s ability to monitor the effective implementation of the ATI Act. (28/09/06)

Pakistan: To mark International Right to Know Day, the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has issued a press release calling for parliament to enact a number of initiatives to strengthen and promote access to information. In particular, CPDI has demanded that parliamentary committees announce and publicise the agenda and schedule of their meetings in advance and hold their meetings in open by allowing the presence of journalists and members of general public to watch committee proceedings. The press release also calls on parliament to strengthen the existing Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and to seriously consider the private member Freedom of Information Bill that has been submitted to the Standing Committee of the Ministry of Information. (28/09/06)

United Kingdom: mySociety.org has announced that it will build a Freedom of Information Filer and Archive, which will be an electronic database that is a searchable, readable, googlable user-created archive of FOI requests and their responses. The database will include a “File an FOI request” tool, and will then publish both the requests and the responses made through it in the archive. mySociety.org will start building the system in early 2007. (27/09/06)

Canada: The Canadian Newspaper Association has released its National Freedom of Information Audit 2006. The audit tested access to information in ten provinces and found that out of 100 information requests made by journalists from 39 newspapers one-third were either denied information or provided with partial information. The requests covered a host of issues including municipal spending on herbicides and pesticides, bonuses paid to local hospital executives and crime statistics. As in the CNA's 2005 audit, the federal government performed poorly and failed to provide any responses within the 30-day mandated period. The audit's release was timed to coincide with the start of Right to Know Week, an initiative conceived by the country's information commissioners to raise public awareness about the right to information. (25/09/06)

Australia: There have been calls for an overhaul of the Australian Freedom of Information Act from various supporters of freedom of information around the world after the Australian High Court decision of McKinnon v Secretary, Department of Treasury (see below for a news update on the case). Domestically, representatives of other political parties, academics in the field and media organisations such as the Australian Press Council, have called for reform of the legislation to ensure the release of documents when it is in the public interest. These calls have been supported internationally by various groups including Reporters Without Borders. (21/09/06)

International: The Global Transparency Initiative has launched its Transparency Charter for International Financial Institutions (IFIs) in Batam, Indonesia as part of parallel civil society events to the World Bank-IMF annual meeting taking place in Singapore. The Charter is based on international law and best practices adopted by states and sets out standards of transparency that IFIs such as the World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organisation and other similar organisations should conform to. Although many IFIs operate disclosure policies, many of these have yet to overcome their serious democratic deficits, while the transparency principles set out in the Charter would also promote a better climate for policy development, decision-making and project delivery. The GTI is also calling on civil society groups to endorse the Charter through its website. (20/09/06)

International: The International Advisory Group of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has proposed in its Final Report to introduce a transparency rating test as a means to reduce corruption in the oil and mining industries. The new measure is one of eight recommendations formulated by the EITI - which aims to ensure that revenues from these industries contribute to sustainable development and poverty reduction. The Report's proposals will be endorsed at an EITI conference taking place in Oslo in October. (20/09/06)

South Africa: The South African History Archive's (SAHA) two year battle against the Minister of Justice to gain access to records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Amnesty Committee has been won via a settlement. However, SAHA has expressed concern with many aspects of the case including the length and cost of the litigation, claiming that the Ministry failed to adequately consider the case. SAHA is also concerned that the settlement has prevented a judgment which would have interpreted a number of exemptions under the Promotion of Access to Information Act that are being regularly used by public bodies. SAHA has stated that the case once again demonstrates the need for an independent Commission which has power to make binding decisions, so that requesters are not prevented from accessing information through unnecessary delays or a lack of resources. (14/09/06)

Canada: The Canadian information commissioner, whose appointment ends on September 29, has seen a job advertisement for his position on an 'obscure government website'. Apparently the advertisement, which has now been removed, included a job description which would only fit the experience of a senior public servant. The time frame for applications was also exceptionally short. The implication drawn is that the Canadian Government wants the new information commissioner to be less independent than the current commissioner and is perhaps targeting specific individuals. (14/09/06)

Pakistan: Sherry Rehman, a Member of the National Assembly from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party has introduced the Freedom of Information Bill 2006 in the National Assembly. The Bill seeks to reform the six media ordinances introduced by the military regime in 2002, including the Freedom of Information Ordinance, and enshrine freedom of information as a fundamental human right. The Bill had originally been submitted in 2002 but has now been referred to a Standing Committee for clause-by-clause review. (10/09/06)

United Kingdom: The University College London will complete a study of the objectives, benefits and consequences of the United Kingdom's Freedom of Information Act. It aims to assess the impact of the Act and whether it has made the nation's government more accountable. (07/09/06)

United Kingdom: The first case testing the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) exposure to the United Kingdom's Freedom of Information law was handed down by the Information Tribunal. The Tribunal ruled on the scope of the laws coverage for specified broadcasters "for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature". The Tribunal held that an internal report on its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was subject to the Freedom of Information laws because at the time of the request the BBC had been using it for strategic, rather than for journalistic, purposes. The BBC's position was upheld by the Information Commissioner but overturned by the Tribunal. Since the Act came in to force last year, the BBC has rejected over 400 requests for information. (07/09/06)

Australia: In one of the most important cases in the history of the Freedom of Information Act in Australia, the Australian High Court has rejected the appeal by newspaper editor Michael McKinnon to have documents released by the Treasurer under the Australian Freedom of Information Act. The Treasurer had signed conclusive certificates for the documents, providing an exemption under Australian law, stating that the release of the documents was not in the public interest. The court found that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was not allowed under the law to assess for itself what the public interest required when deciding if the certificates had been correctly imposed. (06/09/06)

The Gambia: Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has raised its concerns about the legitimacy of the upcoming national elections scheduled to take place on 22 September. In an analysis of press freedom in the country, RWB has noted that media intimidation has led to a situation where freedom of the press and public access to information has become so bad that the elections are unlikely to be free and fair. (05/09/2006)

Vanuatu: Tansparency International Vanuatu is working towards having the country's Official Secrets Act repealed. Marrie Noelle Patteson, the president of the Vanuatu Chapter of Transparency International noted that freedom to information is vital to democracy and is the best tool in the fight against corruption in government. (04/09/06)

New Zealand: The Law Commission has proposed a new Court Information Act to provide open access to court records. In its Access to Court Records report submitted to Parliament on 2 August, the Commission noted that the Act would promote the principles of "open justice, and the public interest in the accountability of the judicial process and the administration of justice". The report also recommends greater public access to records after a hearing and at the end of any appeal period, greater availability of information about future hearings through online access to court calendars, and that fees charged for access to and copying of court records should be reasonable and not undermine any access provisions. Law Commission President Sir Geoffrey Palmer noted that the new Act would help the accurate reporting and the free flow of information to the public about judicial procedures. (01/09/06)

Australia: The Tasmanian Ombudsman has approved the release of the Tasmanian Government's cabinet agendas for 1993-95. The landmark decision is the first occasion that an Australian Government has released cabinet documents under local freedom of information (FOI) laws and could lead Governments of other states such as New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia to do the same. Under the Tasmanian FOI law, the exemption for cabinet and internal working documents ceases to apply after ten years. However, the Government still resisted release for 9 months and only agreed to disclose the information after pressure from the Ombudsman to do so. (30/08/06)

International: The International Financial Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank, has appointed a Disclosure Policy Advisor, who will be responsible for reviewing requests and complaints under the new IFC Disclosure Policy. The IFC's disclosure policy has been operating since 30 April 2006 and handles requests about the IFC's policies and activities. The Disclosure Policy Advisor will handle complaints from applicants who believe that their requests have been unreasonably denied or that the Disclosure Policy has been incorrectly interpreted. Complaints can be sent electronically via the IFC Disclosure Portal. (28/08/06)

Botswana: An MP has called on the Government to enact a freedom of information law during a parliamentary debate on a proposed Broadcasting Law. Lobatse MP Nehemiah Modubule noted that such an Act would help to ensure the public's access to government information on the understanding that the Government is holding information on behalf of the public and so it should not be a problem for people to access information. (26/08/06)

Canada: The Defence lawyer for news reporter Juliet O'Neill has warned that journalists who gain information through their own sources rather than through the Access to Information Act (ATIA) may become liable for prosecution under the Security of Information Act. The argument was made in in a Supreme Court case against Ms O'Neill, who had published an article concerning a Canadian citizen under surveillance by Canadian security forces for alleged terrorist links. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police obtained search warrants under section 4 of the Security of Information Act and raided her home and work place, claiming that Ms O'Neill had based her story on documents leaked by a government source. However, her lawyers have argued that Section 4 was too broad and vague and harms freedom of the press to be used in this case, while the Crown is seeking to set a dangerous precedent by arguing that the Security Act is not vague or broad if it is interpreted in conjunction with the ATIA. (25/08/06)

United Kingdom: Research published by the Office of the Information Commissioner has shown that the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act has bolstered people's confidence in public authorities. In particular, the research found that 72% of people surveyed have more confidence in pubic authorities because of FOI, compared with 55% in spring 2005 when the Act had just come into force. About three-quarters of those surveyed (74%) felt that the new law helped to promote accountability and transparency among public authorities, up from about half in 2005, while 82% of public authorities noted that FOI was required. (25/08/06)

United Kingdom: The UK Information Commissioner's Office has provided a new page on its website on the 4th International Conference of Information Commissioners which took place in Manchester in May this year. It includes all presentations and transcripts for the first and second day of the conference. (22/08/06)

International: The UK Department for International Development has released minutes of a board meeting held by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) discussing its decision to invest in the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline project. The disclosure was made following a request under the UK's Freedom of Information Act by The Corner House concerning the pipeline and could set a new precedent for the disclosure of board meeting minutes by International Financial Institutions. In the United States, the law states that the Treasury department must release a "statement or explanation" of the US position for Multilateral Development Bank board discussions but such statements lack key information, while requests under the US Freedom of Information Act for similar disclosures have been unsuccessful. (22/08/06)

Zambia: The Government has come under pressure to enact the Freedom of Information Bill ahead of elections later this year. The Government had previously withheld the Bill for more than three years for “wider consultation” and has argued that Parliament would not have enough time to approve the Freedom of Information bill ahead of the elections, as the current body of MPs is expected to finish its term in office this Friday. However, parliamentarians, the media and civil society groups have noted that any more delay would harm the media’s ability to uncover maladministration and any wrongdoing in the run up to the elections. (21/08/06)

Pacific Islands: Representatives from regional non-government organisations called for freedom of information (FOI) laws to be passed in the region following a three-day workshop in Suva on the benefits of FOI for governance and development. The workshop was organised by the UNDP's Pacific Sub-regional Centre and led by Maja Daruwala, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. (19/08/06)

United Kingdom: On August 2, the Government launched the second stage of a pilot database project that will give people access to the consolidated law. However, the site, which is subject to Crown copyright, is not freely accessible to the public. Although the Department of Constitutional Affairs has stated that the copyright notice is only for the pilot stage, the system has caused public outrage for charging for information from a database that was put together using taxpayers' money. (18/08/06)

Pakistan: Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad on 10 August promulgated the Sindh Freedom of Information Ordinance to ensure transparency and openness in the functioning of government departments. The new law is aimed at extending freedom of information to ensure that citizens of the province have improved access to pubic records as a means of making the provincial government more accountable. (17/08/06)

Sierra Leone: A Freedom of Expression conference organised by Article 19 recently took place in Dakar, Senegal. Topics raised during the conference included the need for Sierra Leone to repeal the Public Order Act which greatly inhibits freedom of information (FOI). Participants also stressed that freedom of expression in the country would only become meaningful once Parliament approves the Freedom of Information Bill. Currently, the FOI Coalition in Sierra Leone is campaigning for civil society groups in Sierra Leone to help lobby Parliament to pass the Freedom of Information Bill. (10/08/06)

International: The latest internal World Bank draft anticorruption strategy appears to follow through on President Paul Wolfowitz's pledge to increase investment in the areas of media and freedom of information. The Bank document cites a need to address both supply-side reforms, in which governments take actions, and efforts to build demand for better governance.(08/08/06)

International: Efforts in the United States to table the Cornyn-Leahy Bill, which seeks to overhaul the Freedom of Information Act have stalled as a result of a heavy legislative schedule. Texas Senator John Cornyn, the Republican sponsor of the Bill, has said that the delay was a result of a heavy agenda on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he has tried to get a vote on the Bill for more than a year. The Bill would penalise federal agencies for delaying responses to requests for information, create an ombudsman to review rejections and equip the public with a better means to track requests. However, open government advocates have suggested that the White House's reluctance to endorse the Bill has accounted for the delays. (07/08/06)

United Kingdom: The UK government has taken a U-turn on its decision to provide free information. A leaked confidential cabinet paper has revealed that Constitutional Affairs Secretary Lord Falconer is considering ways to block “difficult requests” under the Freedom of Information (FOI) law and is also seeking to introduce a flat fee for FOI requests to inhibit “serial requesters”. The move follows a series of disclosures under the Act that have embarrassed ministers. In the paper, Falconer sets out proposals to amend the rules to make it easier for the government to refuse requests on the basis that they are too costly. This would include, for example, allowing activities undertaken by civil servants, such as searching for information, to count towards the cost of processing the application, thus making it easier to reject applications on expense grounds. (03/08/06)

International: The European Commission, as part of its European Transparency Initiative, is seeking to make member states publish detailed data on the structural aid funding they receive from the European Union (EU). Structural funds are commonly used as part of the EU’s regional policy to bolster infrastructure and local development in poor regions and amount to one-third of the EU budget. Under the proposed scheme, funding applicants risk losing their eligibility for funding if they fail to agree to the transparency measures. (02/08/06)

Pacific Islands: The Pacific Media and Communications Facility has announced the completion of its toolkit for Pacific governments to use when developing information disclosure policies. The toolkit was developed by CHRI and Freedom of Information expert Charmaine Rodrigues. It outlines a framework for effective information disclosure policies (IDPs) in large, medium and small nations and sets out the key advantages of IDPs in terms of development and good governance and includes a model IDP which can be adapted to local circumstances. (01/08/06)

Fiji: The Solicitor-General's Office has advised that it is in the final stages of drafting a Freedom of Information Bill. Rupeni Nawaqakuta, a senior lawyer at the office, said the second draft of the Bill was "just about complete". A first draft was completed in 1998 and released in 2000 for public comment, but lapsed with the May 2000 coup. (28/07/06)

Ghana: Parliament has passed the Whistleblowers Bill which sets out how individuals may disclose official information that exposes unlawful or illegal conduct or practice. The Bill provides protection against victimisation of individuals making the disclosures and provides a fund to compensate whistleblowers. MPs had earlier underlined the Bill’s importance in fighting corruption and acts of impropriety. (27/07/06)

United Kingdom: The Campaign for Freedom of Information has published a compilation of 500 press stories in 2005 on the Freedom of Information Act, covering disclosures from both England and Scotland. (26/07/06)

United Kingdom: The Home Office has set a new record of 18 months of delay in dealing with a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Sunday Telegraph home affairs correspondent Ben Leapman made his request about security lapses at Woodhill Prison, where Soham murderer Ian Huntley is kept, when the Act came into force in 2005. His request was referred to the Home Secretary twice, after which the Information Commissioner's Office took two months to allocate an official to deal with his appeal. The Home Office eventually released the information on 14 July. (24/07/06)

International: The Bretton Woods Project has issued a statement signed by a number of European civil society organisations calling on the International Monetary Fund to overhaul its governance mechanisms. The statement calls for opening up the Fund's leadership selection process, making its governing bodies more transparent, and ending inequalities between developed and
developing countries in its executive board and board of governors decision making processes. (14/07/06)

Fiji: FemLinkPACIFIC and UNESCO held a three-day training workshop in Suva on "Empowering Communities through Information" which included presentations and discussions on freedom of information, freedom of communication/media and ICT for development. The statement issued at the end of the workshop included pledges to recommit the role of community broadcasting as a democratic channel of communication. It also called on all stakeholders to ensure that all communities are able to fully utilise accessible information and communication technology and that rural and remote communities are not left behind in the further development of the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors. (14/07/06)

Bermuda: The Premier of Bermuda has told the House of Assembly that the drafting of a Public Access to Information law was expected to be completed in time for its introduction in 2007, once the Government's implementation plan is finalised. A discussion paper on Freedom of Information was published in the middle of 2005, and was to be used as a consultation document. (12/07/06)

European Union: An EU Ministerial Meeting that took place in Riga on 12 June, concluded with a note on the need to develop an "Internet for all" action plan that should allow the disadvantaged groups to access the Internet. The Ministers recognised the need to consider whether legislative measures are necessary in the field of e-Accessibility. The EU has also released a report recommending public access to scientific research funded by the European taxpayer.(12/07/06)

United Kingdom: In a claim that has broken new legal ground, the Government has demanded that controversial former Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray remove sensitive Foreign Office correspondence from his website which he claims he obtained officially through Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act requests. The claim comes at a time when Ministers have been seeking new legal methods of preventing leaks by dissenting officials while the Home Office has been working on proposals to toughen up the Official Secrets Act. (11/07/06)

United Kingdom: Downing Street may be forced to release details of Prime Minister Tony Blair's meetings with influential media magnate Rupert Murdoch following the release of a decision notice by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The decision note was issued on receipt of a complaint made by Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Avebury after his request for dates and details of Blair’s meeting with Murdoch were rejected on the grounds that disclosure “would hurt” the Prime Minister's "free and frank discussions" with other people. (11/07/06)

International: Freedominfo.org has released a new Global Survey of Freedom of Information Laws for 2006, written by David Banisar. The new report summarises the status of access to information laws across 68 countries. (04/07/06)

South Africa: The Human Rights Commission and the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) have announced a new joint award to be given to a journalist whose coverage of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) has had the most significant impact - either by coverage of the Act or its use for investigations. ODAC will also later this year release a manual for journalists on how to use the Act. Interested journalists should contact ODAC at 0800 525 352 for nomination forms and further information. The winner of the award will be announced on international 'Right to Know' day on 29 September 2006. (04/07/06)

International: The US Freedom of Information Act celebrates its 40th year in operation tomorrow. To mark the event, former President Jimmy Carter reflects on its performance while outlining progress made with freedom of information across the globe. (03/07/06)

International: A study in the United States by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act has found that 60% of requests came from commercial interests. The survey examined 6,439 requests to eleven Cabinet departments and six main agencies in September 2005. It found that private citizens were the second largest requestors while the media only accounted for 6% of requests with reporters noting that requests take too long to process to make the Act a useful tool for news reporting. (03/07/06)

United Kingdom: Home Secretary John Reid has drawn up plans to tighten official secrets legislation in order to stop whistleblowers from releasing sensitive information on government policy. The plans are designed to prevent Whitehall officials releasing sensitive information in the public interest and that related to government wrongdoing. They follow a spate of embarrassing leaks that have revealed ministers' private concerns about the legality of the US-led invasion of Iraq. (03/07/06)

Africa: Civil society organisations held a workshop in Banjul, Gambia to formulate ways in which their countries could better meet their commitments under African Union (AU) treaties, especially those under the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The meeting took place on the eve of the of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government. The recommendations made at the workshop included the need to improve access to information. In particular, participants agreed that the APRM secretariat should have its own regularly updated website, with detailed progress reports, and the appointment of an official to deal with civil society issues. Moreover, they recommended that there should be wider access to information of national self-assessment reports and the data used to complete them. They also called on all African governments to enact freedom of information laws, ensure their effective implementation and change existing laws and policies so that official information is presumed to be public. (03/07/06)

Australia: The State Government of Victoria’s Freedom of Information laws are being undermined by secrecy and deception according to the State Ombudsman’s recent report reviewing the implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act for the 2003-06 period. The report found that some state departments were deliberately obstructing sensitive documents from being publicly released. Ombudsman George Brouwer revealed that the delay in processing FOI requests was a major problem with only 56 percent of FOI decisions made by government departments in 2003-04 meeting the statutory deadline of 45 days. The report also found that between January to September 2005 the Victoria Police had on average had 40% of requests which were over 45 days old. The Ombudsman also made a number of recommendations to the law and procedures for implementation, which included advising government agencies to consult with applicants to expedite their decision-making processes. (03/07/06)

Pakistan: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) is demanding that the Ministry of Law Justice and Human Rights implement transparent procedures following reports that the Ministry had been misusing funds meant for the victims of Human Rights violations. The Government has been asked to give an immediate public explanation and order a public enquiry to investigate the allegations.. The CPDI has also demanded that information about the procedure for submitting, reviewing and deciding on applications by victims of human rights violations be regularly posted on the Ministry’s website. (03/07/06)

India: A nationwide anti-corruption campaign, "the Drive against Bribes", was launched yesterday across 48 cities. The 15-day drive will involve groups from across society - including civil society, the media, businesses and government departments - and will focus on training and encouraging the public to use the 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Law to seek information from government instead of paying bribes to do so. Assistance centres manned by over 1,500 volunteers will help the public to file RTI requests during the campaign. (02/07/06)

International: The UNDP and UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have released the first joint-report on ‘Governance for the Future: Democracy and Development in LDCs’. The report found that despite severe human resource constraints and structural weaknesses many LDCs have made significant progress towards sustainable democratic governance, including in the area of access to information. It also notes that further capacity development efforts are required to bolster accountability, predictability, responsiveness and participation in public administrations across all LDCs. (30/06/06)

Bangladesh: Leading journalists attending the Bangladesh chapter of The South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) 2006 Conference called for the repeal of the country's Official Secrets' Act and the enactment of an access to information and freedom of the press law. Reazuddin Ahmed, President of SAFMA Bangladesh, noted that the Official Secrets' Act was established by the British colonial government for its own interest and so was no longer relevant to the running of an independent country. He also demanded the repeal of clauses in existing laws that created obstacles to freedom of the press and access to information. (27/06/06)

European Union: EU leaders have agreed to make public all debates and votes concerning decision-making meetings on main European legislation. The agreement came about despite previous signs that United Kingdom was opposed to the plans, especially after new UK Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett insisted that detailed discussions are, "not in the public domain and are never likely to be". The UKs U-turn did however come with one small concession of having the process reviewed in six months time. (26/06/06)

International: The International Records Management Trust (IRMT) is conducting a research project on how to manage electronic records in a developing world context. The project will focus on pay and personnel records, with pay records and procurement being two areas of government spending that are most susceptible to graft or misallocation, and will look at systems in eastern and southern Africa. The core aims of the research include helping governments to build the infrastructure and capacity needed to manage electronic records and to bolster governments’ ability to measure progress towards improving accountability. (25/06/06)

Cayman Islands: A working group is currently examining recommendations to amend the Government's draft Freedom of Information Bill, including those submitted by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. The working group has been meeting twice weekly since early May to examine feedback from the Government's public consultation process which ended on 28 April. The public will also be given a second opportunity to voice their views on the Bill to a Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly and those interested in doing so should contact the Cabinet Office. (23/06/06)

Canada: The Government's linchpin governance reform legislation, the Federal Accountability Act, is likely to pass through the report stage and third reading in the House of Representatives this week. However, leading senators have raised concerns about the rushed passage of the Bill, suggesting that the Senate will not pass the Bill until December. There are also concerns that the Bill does not go far enough to improve the Access to Information Act with amendments that thus far only bring in the Asia-Pacific Foundation and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation under the purview of the Act and allow the disclosure of draft reports after audits, while still excluding notes or working papers. Separately, Information Commissioner John Reid has released his Annual Report: 2005-2006 on the operation of the Act. The Report found that public complaints about refusals and delays increased from 21.1% last year to 24.1%. Of the twelve departments under review through the report card system, only five departments received a 'C' grade or higher. Only Industry Canada and Public Works improved on their grades from last year with five departments (Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Justice, Library and Archives Canada, and the Privy Council Office) receiving a failed grade for having over 20 per cent of their requests refused or significantly delayed. The Report underlined concerns that Government continues to resist reforms to the Act, while a lack of understanding among public officials of the need to shift their practices from a culture of bureaucratic secrecy to one of transparency persists. (21/06/06)

International: The heads of eleven international non-government organisations have endorsed an "Accountability Charter" which commits their organisations to key principles including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, good governance, transparency and ethical standards in their fundraising and advocacy activities. Leading signatories include Amnesty International, CIVICUS, ActionAid International, Greenpeace International, Oxfam International, International Save the Children Alliance and Transparency International. The Charter reflects the growing influence of NGOS in multilateral forums, where they have pressed governments and businesses to adopt better standards of human rights, environmental protection, corruption and transparency, while at the same time coming under greater scrutiny about their own practices. (20/06/06)

India: In a landmark ruling, the Chief Central Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has said that contracts with public authorities cannot be classified as confidential. Government agencies have been long been reluctant to disclose information concerning their contracts with private entities, especially in national security and defence-related issues. The ruling was made in a case where the Commission ordered the National Institute of Science Communication and Information (NISCAIR) to provide information concerning the details of its contract with a private firm, Deep Security Services. (20/06/06)

Fiji: The Attorney General has announced that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill will be introduced in the next parliamentary sitting as part of the Fiji Law Reform Commission's work programme. He also said that the Cabinet will soon set out the schedule for the presentation of the Bills to Parliament. Other Bills that may be introduced this year include the Standard of Leadership Conduct Bill, which along with the FOI Bill, is designed to promote and strengthen good governance in the country.(20/06/06)

Ghana: Speaking at a workshop organised by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) in Accra, Mr. Brian Sapati, former Executive Secretary of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), has called for the enactment of the Right to Information Bill as a means to crack down on endemic corruption in the country. Also speaking was Mrs. Linda Ofori-Kwafo, Acting Executive Secretary of Ghana Integrity Initiative, who noted the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to information and the right to fair trial, along with an independent judiciary were essential tools for fighting corruption in the country. (19/06/06)

Zambia: The upcoming general elections has placed further pressure on the Government to enact the Freedom of Information Bill. The media, opposition parliamentarians and freedom of information campaigners have raised concerns that without the enactment of the Bill, media reporting on the Government and the elections would be stifled. However, a government spokesman has said that because the Bill would also have an impact on the wider public and not just the media, it needed wider consultation, while hoping that this year's polls would not harm the country's reputation for conducting free and fair elections. (19/06/06)

Sierra Leone: Following months of lobbying, Parliament has agreed that its Legislative Committee should consider the Freedom of Information Coalition's (FOIC's) draft Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill. FOIC Chairman Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, stressing FOI's potential to crack down on poverty and generate wealth, said that such consideration would give further impetus to the Bill. The FOIC now plans to hold concerts across the country to raise public awareness of the benefits of FOI. (19/06/06)

United Kingdom: The Government has released its Annual Report on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The report compiled and analysed the 38,108 requests received during 2005 by 42 Central Government bodies. It found that the majority of requests (36%) were made in the first quarter following the Act's implementation in January. The Ministry of Defence received the highest number of request (4,604), followed by the Home Office and then the Department of Transport. Overall, 77% of requests were met within the 20-day deadline set out in the law, with the Home Office performing the worst in meeting this deadline (for 47% of requests). Of the 127 appeals that went to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), only 25 had a know outcome with just 6 decisions being overturned. The Department of Work and Pensions, followed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had the most number of decisions referred to the ICO. (15/06/06)

Jamaica: Recently appointed Minister for Information and Development, Senator Colin Campbell has said that the Government will launch a nationwide public awareness raising campaign for the Access to Information Act 2002. Speaking at the International Access to Information forum in Kingston, Campbell noted that the campaign would go beyond civil society stakeholders and target education institutions as well as the wider public. The Carter Center, which hosted the conference, also took the opportunity to launch its publication "Access to Information: Building A Culture of Transparency", which outlines the progress made so far with the Act. (15/06/06)

European Union: The Austrian Presidency's proposal to allow official cameras to record ministers' decision-making meetings has led to a split within the EU over opening up such meetings to the public. Previously, member states, led by the Scandinavian bloc, had been prepared to agree to the proposals. However, the United Kingdom's growing doubts over the issue backed by other states such as Belgium, France, Slovenia and Spain are likely to scupper the plans. These doubts come amid concerns raised by diplomats that the introduction of cameras would only harm debate in meetings and encourage more backroom deals or ministerial intransigence on sensitive issues that may affect their domestic standing. (14/06/06)

India: The Administrative Reforms Commission has submitted its first report on the implementation of the Right to Information law to the Prime Minister. The report sets out key recommendations to improve the functioning of the Act which include repealing the Official Secrets Act 1923 and incorporating its national security safeguards in the National Security Act; ensuring that at least half the members of Information Commissions are drawn from non-Civil Service backgrounds; overhauling public records management with the introduction of public records offices both at the centre and state levels; handing responsibility for monitoring the law to the Information Commission; and formulating a road-map for effective implementation in the judiciary and legislature. (13/06/06)

United Kingdom: The 4th International Conference of Information Commissioners took place in Manchester on 22-23 May. The conference included delegates from over 40 countries and was hosted by the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas. The format of the conference differed from last year's meeting in Cancun, Mexico in that participants outside of government were only invited to attend the final day. The official report on the conference will be posted on the Information Commissioner's Office website while an alternative report on the conference by Emilene Martinez-Morales, Transparency Programs Coordinator for the Mexico Project at the National Security Archive is currently available. (12/06/06)

United Kingdom: The Information Commissioner has issued a notice criticising his own office for witholding information, according to Friends of the Earth (FoE). The notice followed the Information Commissioner's Office's (ICO) refusal to disclose its correspondence with the Department of Trade and Industry following a request from the environmental campaign group. However, the ICO only issued the notice following an internal review. Despite the blow to its credibility, the ICO still refuses to provide copies of the letters requested and FoE will now appeal to the Information Tribunal. (12/06/06)

Kenya: Government officials noted that the Official Secrets Act was a key obstacle in the provision of information to the public and a major source of corruption. Officials, who were speaking at the National Anti-Corruption Plan stakeholders meeting at Bomas, noted that the Act should be reviewed. As part of wider anti-corruption measures, officials also called for the Government to release accurate information regularly through press releases, conferences and press briefings and for all ministries to establish public information desks. (12/06/06)

South Africa: The South African History Archive and Historical Papers department from the Library at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg have launched the Traces of Truth website - a new digital archive for material related to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The archive is designed to assist scholarship and research worldwide concerning the TRC and includes descriptions of 306 documents, allows users to instantly view 232 of those documents, and access on request to the remaining 74 documents. (12/06/06)

Canada: Information Commissioner John Reid and Auditor-General Sheila Fraser have both recently uncovered a worrying trend by federal officials to refuse to document records of government deliberations and decisions. Reid's investigations have found that officials have preferred to give oral briefings, used private Blackberry technology to send email messages thus avoiding computer servers that would retain copies of messages, and written coded messages on Post-it notes attached to documents which can be discarded once a final record is created. In a recent report on the gun registry, the Auditor-General was stunned by the lack of documentation concerning a decision to carry over $21-million in costs in the current fiscal year. Fraser noted that The Federal Access to Information Act 1982 "has had a chilling effect [on bureaucrats] and affected whether or not reports are written." (12/06/06)

Zambia: Article 19 has made an assessment of freedom of information in the country ahead of the December 2006 elections. It found that, although there have been escalating calls for the enactment of a freedom of information law before the elections, the Government continues to shelve a draft Bill submitted in 2002. The Government also rejected recommendations from a Constitutional Review Comission that proposed a framework for freedom of information. Article 19 now recommends the creation, implementation and promotion of access to information legislation, improved government transparency and reduced official secrecy. (09/06/06)

International: In the United States, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Bill was introduced in Congress. The Bill requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to grant public access to information on federal contracts and grants through a searchable website. Although there are other privately run websites which perform a similar function these have been widely criticised. The new website would give public access to grants, cooperative agreements, loans, insurance, direct payments and indirect financial assistance. The Bill is likely to be moved as free-standing legislation or as an amendment to budget reform legislation this summer but may be undermined by a similar rival Bill, the unwieldy "Website for American Taxpayers to Check and Help Deter Out-of-control Government Spending Act" (the WATCHDOGS Act). (07/06/06)

United Kingdom: Following the Information Commissioner's first ever enforcement notice, the Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith published details of how and why he came to his final legal opinion, presented to Parliament on 17 March 2003, to go to war with Iraq . Goldsmith's joint disclosure statement confirmed that he had originally believed that a second UN resolution explicitly permitting the use of military force was the "safest course" and had consulted Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK's ambassador to the UN, Baroness Morgan of Huyton and the Lord Chancellor to discuss the need for a further resolution. However, the statement failed to meet The Independent's request for all documents, e-mails, memos and minutes relating to the formulation of the Attorney General's advice and the newspaper now plans to take its complaint to the Information Tribunal. (01/06/06)

United Kingdom: The Information Commissioner (IC) has issued his first Enforcement Notice since the UK Freedom of Information Act came into force last year. The Notice seeks to resolve numerous complaints related to the disclosure of advice given by the Attorney General (AG) concerning the legality of the UK's military intervention in Iraq in 2003. Despite a number of exemptions that cover the advice, the IC found that the public interest weighed in favour of ordering the AG's office to publish a Disclosure Statement, containing the substance of information which led to, or supported the views, of the AG in his statement on the legality of the war made to Parliament on 17 March 2003. (30/05/06)

Solomon Islands: The Government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the People First Network (PFNet), which operates 20 rural email stations across the country, to disseminate through the network a weekly news bulletin on government activities. The Solomon Islands have been been plagued by poor governance characterised by poor communication between the Government and the population who live in distant rural areas. Director of the Government Communications Unit Alfred Maesulia hopes that the dissemination strategy will help to empower the rural population by keeping them better informed about government activities, while also giving them a means to provide feedback to the Government. (26/05/06)

Australia: The New South Wales (NSW) Court of Appeal made a landmark decision when it dismissed Government efforts to exempt documents on theoretical grounds long used by Australian state and federal governments to withhold information. The Court ruled in favour of the NSW Law Society in its case against WorkCover, which tried to withhold legal documents on the grounds that they were “internal working documents” with no legitimate public interest. However, the Court dismissed these grounds, noting that a factual basis was required to prove the claims for exemption based on disclosure being against the public interest. The ruling means that, in future cases, governments in Australia will have to show that "tangible harm" would flow from disclosing the documents rather than relying on theoretical arguments. (15/05/06)

Malta: The Government has said that it will publish a White Paper on freedom of information by the end of the year. The statement followed a formal call by the Institute of Maltese Journalists on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day urging the Government to pass a Freedom of Information Act. The White Paper will follow a public consultation period during submissions can be made to the Office of the Principal Permanent Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister, Valletta CMR 02, or by e-mail on pps@gov.mt. (08/05/06)

Swaziland: Minister for Public Service and Information Themba Msibi said that the Government has commissioned consultants from the Commonwealth Secretariat to draft a Freedom of Information Bill. The announcement was made to officials from the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Swaziland and the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ). The Minister also noted that the proposed Bill will be in line with the recently adopted Media and Information Policy which was a result of a wide consultation process. (08/05/06)

Bangladesh: To mark World Press Freedom Day, six NGOS including Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication, Mass-line Media Center, Media Watch, South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Manusher Jonno-DFID and UNESCO Bangladesh will hold a two-day conference on the theme of Information as the Oxygen of Democracy. The conference will be attended by a number of government ministers including Barrister Nazmul Huda, honorable Minister of Communication and Mr. Abdur Salam Pintu, honourable Deputy Minister of Information. Conference sessions will cover such topics as the right to information as well as the role of information in women empowerment. (03/05/06)

Australia: An investigation by the State Ombudsman for Victoria found that the State's largest Department for Human Services had deliberately blocked the release of information concerning media opportunities for ministers. The Ombudsman found that the department had employed a number of ploys to avoid meeting the request made by the Opposition. These included claiming that the information requested was "too voluminous", despite possessing a document entitled "Media Opportunities" that listed all opportunities for cabinet ministers; relying on instructions from the media unit rather than carrying out a proper information search; and following instructions not to discuss by phone the applicant's request. Since the investigation, the Department has said it would now consult FOI applicants as early as possible to assist them with requests. (01/05/06)

Canada: Information Commissioner John Reid has released a report criticising the Government's moves to reform the Access to Information (ATI) Act, labelling them the most "retrograde and dangerous set of proposals" since the Act came into force. In particular the report singled out ten new amendments, including exemptions for notes from the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Auditor General and the Chief Electoral Officer and records containing "trade secrets or financial, commercial, scientific or technical information that belongs to" Canada Post, Export Development Canada, The Public Sector Pension Investment Board and Via Rail. Meanwhile, Reid's own recommendations for reforming the Act, which the Government had pledged to enact at the last election, have been referred to a parliamentary committee. (28/04/06)

International: The UNDP Democratic Governance Group has released "A Guide to Measuring the Impact of Right to Information Programmes - Practical Guidance Note". The guide focuses on the monitoring and evaluation of right to information programmes, paying particular attention to the use of appropriate indicators. It outlines the basic principles of programme evaluation, and the four broad areas of right to information that must be considered in any context for a thorough evaluation. (25/04/06)

Canada: On April 11, 2006, the Government introduced its Federal Accountability Act and Action Plan. Both of these are designed to strengthen the current Access to Information (ATI) Act 1982 by widening its coverage to more government agencies, crown corporations and foundations created by federal statute such as the Office of the Auditor General, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The move follows media reports that the Government may be backtracking on its election pledge to reform the ATI Act. (24/04/06)

New Zealand: Steven Price, a Fellow of Law and Journalism at the University of Victoria in Wellington, has conducted a comprehensive survey of the implementation of the Official Information Act (OIA) 1982. The survey examined hundreds of OIA requests to find out who was using the Act, what they were requesting and official responses to these requests. The survey compiled comprehensive statistics and found that the majority of requests were met in full and on deadline. However, it also found that one in eight responses breached the 20-day deadline while rejections reflected a lack of understanding of the law by officials. (20/04/06)

Uganda: The Access to Information Act 2005 came into operation on 20 April 2006. The President's Office has issued the Access to Information (Commencement) Instrument 2006 notifying the Act's commencement into force to all government departments and agencies. Meanwhile, the Head of the Public Service had been asked to designate information officers by the date of operation in all ministries to act as contact points to receive requests under the Act.(20/04/06)

Sierra Leone: Deputy Speaker of the House of Parliament, Honourable Elisabeth Lavalie, pledged her support for a national Freedom of Information Bill following her meeting with the Freedom of Information coalition. She was joined by her fellow member of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party Mr A.O.D. George, who noted that the Bill would receive the necessary support in Parliament for its enactment, while also cautioning the need to take into account national stability and cohesion when handling information. (20/04/06)

Bahamas: Local journalists are welcoming a suggestion by the Constitutional Review Commission that freedom of the press and access to information receive constitutional protection. In addition to strongly supporting the idea of the inclusion of the freedom of press as a part of the principle of free expression, the Commission's report also pointed out that freedom of speech must be accompanied by access to public information. (19/04/06)

Sierra Leone: Parliamentary Minority Leader and head of the All People's Congress, Ernest Koroma, has given his backing for a national Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Koroma highlighted the need for the law to crack down on government secrecy and noted that the efforts of the FOI Coalition, which is pressing for the implementation of its draft FOI Bill, is complementing that of the Anti-Corruption Commission because a FOI law would help the fight against chronic corruption in the country. (19/04/06)

Canada: Alberta Information Commissioner, Frank Work has asked a prosecutor to determine whether an Alberta government employee should be charged for trying to mislead a public inquiry by submitting doctored evidence. The investigation was ordered after a forensic audit confirmed that a doctored email had been submitted as evidence in a public inquiry into Alberta Infrastructure's handling of a Freedom of Information request by The Edmonton Journal. The Journal made an FOI request in June 2004 for access to documents that reveal how the government of Premier Ralph Klein uses its publicly funded fleet of aircraft. (15/04/06)

Jamaica: Information Minister Senator Burchell Whiteman has said that he would support a recommendation by the Cabinet and the Bank of Jamaica to exempt policy advice given by external advisers to the Government from the purview of the Access to Information Act 2002. The recommendation will be considered by the Joint Select Committee currently reviewing the Act. The Committee, having considered submissions from stakeholders for the review process, is preparing an interim report of recommendations that many fear will recommend narrowing the scope of the law by, for example, including a new category for refusal that the document does not exist. (12/04/06)

Canada: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stated that the first piece of legislation to be introduced in the new Parliament will be an Accountability Act. However, the media have learnt that the Act will no longer include reforms to Access to Information laws as previously pledged, suggesting that the Government is backing away from its election manifesto plans for a comprehensive reform of the law. This also follows the release of an order for all Ministers and bureaucrats to seek approval from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) for all government information to be communicated to the public. The order restricts ministers from talking about the direction of government policy while urging them to be less accessible to the news media. Separately, the government has extended the term of office for Information Commissioner John Reid by six months as it carries out its review of the Access to Information Act. (10/04/06)

International: Human Rights Watch on behalf of 26 human rights organisations has submitted a letter concerning the appointment of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression to the Commission. The letter raised concerns that, despite the candidature of a number of experts on freedom of expression, a non-specialist was chosen for the position. This has led to fears that the appointment is a deliberate attempt to weaken the position of the Special Rapporteur. (10/04/06)

Pakistan: During a workshop held with the Cabinet Division, the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) found that officials designated to handle information requests under the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 lack awareness about their responsibilities under the law and have not been provided with adequate training to implement the law effectively. The government was also urged to reduce the cost for applications, promote proactive disclosure of information among ministries and organise training and sensitisation workshops for all officials. (07/04/06)

International: Article 19 has released a report examining the importance of access to information to the right to reproductive and sexual health. The Report looks in detail at how Peru’s Access to Information Law 2002 has benefited women as well as how women’s groups are often left out of the decision-making process for family planning policies, which are instead heavily influenced by religious hierarchies and pharmaceutical companies. (05/04/06)

International: The National Security Archive at George Washington University has released the first audit of the United States' federal Freedom of Information Act. The audit examined responses sent by over 40 federal agencies from February 2005 to requests for policies and guidelines on "sensitive unclassified information". Overall, the report found a range of inconsistencies in policy across the agencies and a lack of monitoring of sensitive unclassified information. This has made it difficult to measure the effectiveness of sensitive unclassified information policies in safeguarding national security or to test whether the policies were open to abuse. (31/03/06)

The Americas: The Open Society Justice Initiative, along with four other organisations, has filed a brief with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to establish that the American Convention on Human Rights guarantees a right of access to information held by public bodies. The brief is in support of Marcel Claude Reyes and others in their court case against the Chilean Government's refusal to release infromation concerning a logging project on the Condor River. It surveys international access to information laws and jurisprudence to argue that people have a fundamental right to access government information, which is set out in the American Convention on Human Rights. (30/03/06)

International: Freedominfo.org, the web-based network linking freedom of information (FOI) movements globally, has revamped its website to include a new country-by-country section providing access to resources about FOI laws in over 60 countries. Resources available include background legal texts, links to government bodies and organisations, and current news about the FOI movement in each country. The site will also continue to publish regular FOI news updates, feature articles, reports, and case studies focusing on transparency and global FOI issues.(23/03/06)

Australia: The Commonwealth Ombusdman has released a Report on the Administration of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, which recommends the setting up of an Information Commission that would independently monitor the law. The report found that although the law facilitates public access to personal information well, policy-related information was difficut to access. The Ombudsman also found that requests were often not acknowledged, faced delays and that government decisions were poorly explained.(20/03/06)

Jamaica: Government Senator Dr Trevor Munroe has urged the Joint Select Committee reviewing the implementation of the Access to Information Act 2002 to consider introducing criminal sanctions for non-compliance with the Act. Currently, only disciplinary penalties can be used to punish non-complance. The issue was raised after local NGO, Jamaicans fo Justice, raised its concerns about the poor level of response from some bodies to information requests as well as the poor functioning of the Appeals Tribunal, which has only heard two appeals in three years. (16/03/06)

Uganda: In a landmark development, the Information state minister, Dr. James Nsaba Buturo announced at a weekly Government press briefing that April 20th shall be the date on which all provisions of the Access to Information Act, 2005 shall come into force. He further stated that the government would press to have all necessary laws that will, when used by Ugandans, lead to the creation of a corrupt-free society. (16/03/06)

International: Transparency International in its publication 'The Anti Corruption Handbook' has published a new page on 'Access to Information'. The ACH is a practical tool which aims to assist the process of design and application of anti-corruption reform measures. (16/03/06)

Scotland: The 2005 Annual Report of the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner has just been published. The report found that the clear majority of users of the law were the general public, with 55% of all appeals to the Information Commission coming from the general public and only 7% from journalists. The Commissioner found that the subject of most public requests related to local community issues such as planning, education, health or public spending. The Report also expressed concerns about the failure of some public authorities to respond to requests for information. (03/03/06)

International: The Annenberg School of Communications, Pennsylvania has published a study on the development of the Mexican Freedom of Information Commission (IFAI). The study examines how the Commission functions and is a useful guide to the best ways to advocate for the effectiveness of Information Commissions. (24/02/06)

Zambia: Mr Vernon Mwaanga, the Information Minister, in relation to the FOI Bill, stated: "I have no immediate intention to take the Freedom of Information Bill to Parliament." Notably the former Information Minister, Hon’ble Zimba, presented the FOI Bill for its second reading on 28 November 2002. However, in December 2002, the Government deferred the Bill on the grounds of global security concerns after the September 11 terrorist attack in USA. The Government also alleged that there was insufficient research before taking the proposed law to the National Assembly. The Government continues to delay consideration of the FOI Bill despite the Mung'omba Constitution Review Commission’s final report recommending that citizens have the right to access information held by the State. Click here for details. (15/02/06)

Canada: Chapter 2 of the Gomery Commission's second report into the Federal Government sponsorship scandal includes recommendations on improving government transparency by amending the Federal Access to Information (ATI) Act 2003. The Report endorses recommendations made by Information Commissioner, John Reid, to amend the ATI Act to include an overriding public harm test, ensure that it overrides all other federal acts that include non-disclosure clauses, strengthen the Information Commissioner's powers and narrow the large number of federal government institutions exempted under the Act. The recommendations draw on a research paper conducted for the Commission by Professor Alasdair Roberts. (15/02/06)

International Monetary Fund (IMF): IMF has released its first annual report on key trends in the implementation of IMF's transparency policy. Consistent with the IMF's continued effort for greater transparency, the annual reports document the state of publication of a wide range of staff reports, country policy intention documents, and IMF policy papers.(15/02/06)

International: The Mexican Information Commission has set a landmark precedent for the application of national freedom of information laws to the activities of international financial institutions. On 16 November 2005, the Commission ordered the disclosure of documents relating to a $108 million World Bank loan project to reform the water systems, highways and housing infrastructure in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. (08/02/06)

International: A civil society activist from Holland, Roger Vleugels, has published the first edition of a List of the Countries with FOI Acts (68 to date). The jurisdictions have been categorised into 5 lists - A: 68 countries which have FOI Acts; B: 25 countries which are either making serious attempts/have a draft/are in the process of implementing a FOI Act; C: more than 110 countries without any FOI Act; D: the European exotics; E: inter-, super-, and supranational bodies (06/02/06)

United Kingdom: The UK Constitutional Affairs Committee has via press note 13 announced an inquiry into the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The inquiry will examine the first year’s experience of the Act and its impact. The inquiry will open with an evidence session with the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, and will also seek the views of users of the Act and of representative public authorities. (27/01/06)

Nigeria: The Draft Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Bill 2005 has successfully been passed by the House of Representatives. The Bill was passed on 19 January 2006 after the Committees in the National Assembly working on the NEITI Bill presented their recommendations before the House of Representatives. The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) which has been closely advocating with and monitoring the Committees' work indends to ensure that the Bill is passed swifly by the Senate. CHRI has submitted an analysis of the Bill to the Senate suggesting amendments to improve the Bill. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has accused senators of delaying the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill. (27/01/06)

International: The Access Initiative has developed a CD-Rom based resource tool called Assessing Access to Information, Participation, and Justice for the Environment: A Guide. The CD includes a set of tools to help civil society assess government performance in providing access to information, public participation,and justice in decision-making for the environment. (25/01/06)

Pacific: CHRI and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) have published a report on the Freedom of Information Workshop for Pacific MPs which they held on 1-2 September 2005. The workshop was attended by MPs and officials from Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Nuie and the Pacific Forum Secretariat. Resource people included the Northern Territory Information Commissioner and the Deputy Clerk of the NZ Parliament. (23/01/06)

Zimbabwe: The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has reported that the Government of Zimbabwe is reviewing its Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) after a report by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) criticised the Act for supressing the freedom of expression. The Government has since informed ACHPR that it is planning to remove offending provisions in the AIPPA so that it complies with the African Union's human rights charter which the Act, in its present form, violates. (20/01/06)

Ghana: The annual report of CHRI's Ghana office recently provided an update on the Right to Information campaign in Ghana. The most significant breakthrough was the Ghana Coalition on RTI's work to publish a Consolidated Critique of the draft Government Right to Information Bill 2005. The Critique was later presented to the Minority Leader of Parliament, the Minister of Information, and the Government's spokesperson on Good Governance. The Coalition now intends to intensify its advocacy around the Bill by raising public awareness, holding workshops and meetings with key stakeholders and raising its media output. (19/01/06)

Jamaica: The Government is required to undertake a mandatory review of implementation under the Access to Information Act 2002 after two years of its enactment in 2004. The first hearing of the Joint Select Committee tasked with reviewing the Act took place on 11 January. The Government was criticised by the ATI Stakeholders Advisory Committee after Minister of Information Burchell Whiteman admitted that the review process had started late. The ATI Stakeholders Committee also criticised Whiteman for ignoring its requests for information about the review, while there are fears that the Government may narrow the jurisdiction of the Act after Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Senator AJ Nicholson, proposed changing the title of the law to the Access to Official Documents Act. (17/01/06)

International: The Open Society Justice Initiative marked the third annual "Right to Know Day" on 28 September by publishing 10 principles on good practice on freedom of information. The principles were drawn from comparative law and international standards from 60 countries that implement freedom of information laws and were drawn up to help civil society and legislators promote the public's right to information. (10/01/06)

Pakistan: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives-Pakistan (CPDI) has demanded that all parliamentary committees implement transparency procedures as a means to promoting greater transparency and breaking down the culture of secrecy of the government' s decision-making processes. Most of these committees, which consider legislative bills and act as oversight bodies, hold their meetings privately without disclosing their minutes. CPDI has made five recommendation aimed at opening up these meetings to public scrutiny, while also demanding that the secretariats of the National Assembly and Senate recognise the importance of citizens' right to access all parliamentary records.(07/01/06)

Scotland: The Scottish Information Commissioner has written a paper comparing the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 against 9 key FOI principles, which the NGO, Article 19, advocates should underpin a robust FOI law. The paper found that the Scottish law complied broadly with most principles, but was deficient on Principle 4 (exemptions subject to strict harm and public interest tests) and Principle 8 (requiring amendment/repeal of inconsistent laws). (09/01/06)

International: The Global Transparency Initiative (GTI) has launched its official website. The GTI is a network of civil society organisations seeking to promote transparency among International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, IMF and other regional development banks. The website has a number of resources including press releases, a calendar of events and a regular newsletter with updates on issues related to transparency in IFIs. It also includes GTI's draft Transparency Charter which sets outs key principles that should underpin IFI disclosure policies. (09/01/06)