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Right to Information


News Updates (Archives) - 2005

Nigeria: The Freedom of Information Bill has suffered a setback in the senate, which asked the Committee on Information to review the report submitted on the Bill. The consideration on the Bill by the committee was suspended because of the reservations that most senators kept expressing. (21/12/05)

Canada: A report assessing the strengths and weaknesses of merging the two separate commissions for the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act has recommended that both offices should remain separate. In early 2005, the Federal Government appointed Former Supreme Court Justice Gerard La Forest to produce the report, which found that a merger of both offices under a single commissioner "would likely have a detrimental impact" on the policy aims of the access and privacy laws. Instead, La Forest urged the Government to do more to ensure that its departments and offices meet their obligations under both the FOI and Privacy laws. (20/12/05)

Scotland: On 12 December 2005, the Minister for Parliamentary Business announced a review of the 2002 Scottish Freedom of Information Act, which came into force on 1 January 2005. The review will include a public consultation process and will examine such issues as coverage of the Act, the fees regime, statutory prohibitions to disclosure of information and other issues that may have caused difficulty. Coinciding with this, the Scottish Information Commissioner released its third review of public awareness of the Act since August 2004. It found that public awareness of the Act was rising, while the number of appeals to the Commissioner had increased.(18/12/05)

Pacific Islands: The International Institute for Development Studies held its annual conference at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji between 1-3 December. The conference included a series of presentations examining the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the Pacific Islands to help bring the region's remote island communities closer to their governments. CHRI presented a paper entitled "Entrenching Good Governance & Sustainable Development by Promoting ICT Strategies Based On The Right to Information" that examined ways in which ICTs could help deliver the Right to Information to remote communities as a means of nurturing more participatory governance in the region. (14/12/05)

Mozambique: The Right to Information Bill prepared by the Mozambican chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa was presented to the Parliament on 30 November 30 2005. The Bill was received by the Commission of Legal, Human Rights and Juridical Affairs. The Chair of this Committee promised that Parliament would consider the draft and make its pronunciation in due course. The draft Bill was also separately presented to the Parliamentary benches of RENAMO Party and ruling FRELIMO party. (13/12/05)

Fiji: In early December 2005, Solicitor-General Nainendra Nand confirmed that in November 2005 the Fiji Cabinet approved in principle a draft Freedom of Information Bill, which would soon released to stakeholders to critique. Nand suggested the Bill was a strong peice of legislation because, for the first time, it gives a person a legally enforeceable right to access official documents. (04/12/05)

Nigeria: It has been reported that the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Frank Nweke JNR, while delivering a keynote address at the 2005 Press Week of the Kaduna Council of the Nigerian union of Journalists, assured that the present government will do all within its power to ensure that passage of the Freedom of Information Bill currently before the National Assembly. The FOI Bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives and is currently awaiting its passage by the Senate before being accented to by the President. (06/12/05)

Mozambique: A civil society Freedom of Information Bill has been prepared by the Mozambican chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa and a supporting coalition of NGOs. It has been reported that the Bill is now ready to be sent to the Legal Affairs Commission of the National Assembly and the parliamentary groups of the ruling party and the opposition for consideration. (30/11/05)

International: The second phase of the UN World Summit on the Information Society took place between 16-18 November 2005 in Tunis. The Conference examined ways in which Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) could be harnassed to promote good governance. Participants - including heads of state and governments as well as representatives from international organisations, the private sector, and civil society - resolved to fulfill a raft of commitments set out in the Tunis Commitment. This included a commitment to the right to the freedom to seek, receive, impart and use information (see para 42) and a call to all stakeholders, especially governments, to reaffirm the right of individuals to access information according to the Geneva Declaration of Principles and other international instruments (see para 46). Nevertheless, the UN's Freedom of Expression Special Rapporteur, Ambeyi Ligabo, has formally responsed to the Tunis Commitment with a statement that underlined the fundamental importance of access to information, freedom of speech and freedom of expression to the development of an information society, which he felt was marginalised in the Commitment. (25/11/05)

United Kingdom: A report on the use of the new UK FOI Act by civil society organisations has been published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. The Report has found that campaign groups and voluntary organisations have been using the UK FOI Act, and look likely to increase their use of the law in order to scrutinise the relationship between the public sector and private companies. The Report includes a survey which found that 50% of surveyed organisations in the voluntary sector were making requests about how public bodies arrive at making decisions. (15/11/05)

Zambia: Article 19 has written a letter to the Chairperson of the Zambian Constitution Review Commission (CRC) expressing deep concern about the Zambian Government’s refusal to include a clause guaranteeing access to information in the new draft constitution. Justice Minister, George Kunda, said the government was opposed to Clause 72 in the draft constitution, which provides for access to information, because it would compromise state security. Article 19 has urged the CRC to take into consideration Zambia’s international obligations under ICCPR, which it signed in 1984. (15/11/05)

Canada: Federal Information Commissioner, Mr John Reid, has produced his own draft Access to Information Bill for consideration by Parliament. The Federal Justice Minister has been promising the House Access to Information Committee a draft government Bill amending the current Access to Information Act , but has not so far not delivered on this promise. The Commissioner is scheduled to appear at the Access Committee to discuss the Commissioner's recommendations for improving the current ATI Act on 25 October. The Commissioner's proposed Bill includes matters that the government will likely oppose such as abolishing the Cabinet-in-confidence exemption and bringing a range of additional bodies under the coverage of the Act, including the Commission itself. (10/11/05)

New Zealand: The Office of the Ombudsman of New Zealand's Annual Report accuses some ministers and government agencies of "subverting democracy" and denying people their right to participate in the democratic process by withholding official information merely for political or administrative convenience. In partiuclar, the Ombudsman draws arrention to their unwillingness and/or inability to meet the deadline requirements under the Official Information Act. Government bodies and ministers have 20 working days to release information. An RTI study by Steven Price, a fellow in law and journalism from Victoria University, found that in two thirds of cases where ministers withheld information fail to balance public interest considerations. Click here for more. (10/11/05)

Pakistan: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives has published a report comparing Pakistan's Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and India's Right to Information Act 2005. The report highlights the weaknesses and ways in which to strengthen the Pakistan Ordinance drawing on India's Act. It is designed to assist civil society efforts and pressure the Pakistani government to push for reforms to the Ordinance. (26/10/05)

Nigeria: Local media professionals have called for the Government to pass the long-delayed Access to Information Bill and rescind laws that harm press freedom and freedom of expression at a workshop organised by the Media Rights Agenda and World Bank Institute. The workshop on "Media Institutions and Capacity in Nigeria", held between 18-20 October, concluded with a statement setting out recommendations for reforms designed to strengthen local media institutions and called on President Olusegun Obasanjo to pass the Freedom of Information Bill, which has been pending before parliament since 1999. (25/10/05)

International: The Global Transparency Initiative (GTI), a coalition of NGOs dedicated to promoting good governance and transparency in international financial institutions (IFIs), launched its new website on 14 October. The site includes up-to-date news on IFI issues, a searchable database of GTI resources and a calendar of events. GTI is also welcoming comments on its final draft of a Transparency Charter on IFIs. The Charter includes nine principles that IFIs should follow in order to optimise transparency of their activities. The deadline for the comment period is 28 November 2005, after which the Charter will be readied for endorsement. (25/10/05)

Kenya: The International Committee of Jurists -Kenya section has released a Report on its Consultative Forum to Discuss Kenya's Draft Freedom of Information Bill 2000. The meeting, from 29 September to 2 October 2005, was attended by representatives from local civil society organisations in order to analyse and improve the draft ICJ FOI Bill produced in 2000, with a view to encouraging its introduction in Parliament as a private members' bill. The revised Bill will soon be released on the ICJ website. (25/10/05)

The Americas: A 14 October Transparency International press release has advised that the Follow-up Mechanism for the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (IACAC) will now incorporate measures to promote greater access to information in national reports issued by the Organisation of American States (OAS). The changes will require publication of all national reports; publication had previously been left to the discretion of each government. Improved disclosure of these reports, which review a country's performance in implementing the IACAC, will bolster accountability and give civil society an opportunity to ensure that their governments meet the norms set out in the Convention. (19/10/05)

Ghana: Speaking ahead of the 13th Commonwealth Law Ministers' meeting which took place in Accra on 17 October, the Ghanaian Minister for Justice and Attorney General Justice Ayikoi Otoo said that his Government was committed to the introduction of the Freedom of Information Bill and Whistleblowers Bill, which would further uphold access to information and protect informants in Ghana. (19/10/05)

Cayman Islands: Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbets last week announced a draft Cayman Islands Access to Information Bill is being circulated for comment for 90 days. It will then be introduced to the National Assembly for approval. Tibbets noted that the Bill would give the public access to information concerning all government departments, public authorities and government-run companies, though information concerning national security issues such as Cabinet papers would be exempt. He also stated that the new law would help to improve accountability, transparency and performance across the public sector. The Bill will also be accompanied by legislation for the establishment of a Complaints Commission and a Human Rights Commission. (19/10/05)

Jamaica: The Access to Information Appeals Tribunal held its first sitting on 10 October. It reserved its ruling on an appeal from a request for information detailing the costs of the Prime Minister's 2003 visit to Malaysia. In 2004, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) failed to hand over the documents following the original request made by Jamaicans for Justice Chairperson Susan Goffe, on the basis that the OPM does not produce the accounts of costings for such trips. Nonetheless, during the hearing, the OPM agreed to release two requested documents. Ms Goffe noted that the release would open up the government's record keeping practices on overseas visits by government representatives and was a victory for the Access to Information Act 2002. (19/10/05)

International: Responding to a report on the International Monetary Fund's disclosure policy, the Fund has decided to reduce the number of deletions and corrections requested by member-state in its reports in order to improve its disclosure practices. The decision follows an internal review which found that over one-third of its published reports are substantially edited as a result of concerns from country officials who fear that the release of such information could be "highly market-sensitive". However, the IMF failed to go further and mandate member-state governments to release their Country Reports, Article IV Reports and Use of Funds Reports, despite the low level of release, particularly in Commonwealth developing countries. For more information, click here. (17/10/05)

Fiji: Minister for Information Marieta Rigamoto announced at the end of September that the Government is drafting a Freedom of Information Bill which, along with the Public Records Act, would give citizens wider access to information held by the Government and its agencies. Ms Rigamoto noted that the drafting of the Bill reflected the Government's commitment to the fundamental freedom of expression as enshrined in their Constitution. She also underlined that without the new Bill, citizens and the media would not be equipped to highlight the shortcomings of government as a means to promote good governance and transparency. (11/10/05)

South Africa: The South African History Archive (SAHA) commissioned a study in 2004 on how prepared State departments were to manage requests for born - digital electronic records made under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). In total eleven national government departments and bodies out of 31 were interviewed. The Report indicates amongst other things that very few departments keep official records in electronic form, there is no formal policy and procedure on how and when electronic records should be stored, and in general the rate of adopting electronic record keeping systems is quite low. (11/10/05)

Kenya: The September issue of ADILI, Transparency International Kenya's montly newsletter, is dedicated to exploring the state of FOIA legislation in Kenya. The newsletter includes an interview with Minister of Information, Mr Tuju on the provisions contained in the Act as well as articles on the milestones with regard to FOIA legislation in Kenya, provisions of the draft Constitution in regard to access to information and an excerpt of memorandum of vews on the Draft Freedom of Information Act 2005. TI-Kenya has dedicated previous issues of ADILI to the freedom of information, to download these click here.

International: The UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) came into force on 15 September after Ecuador became the thirtieth country to ratify it. Its entry into force will take place on 14 December 2005. The Convention is th only global anti-corruption convention and obliges governments to implement a number of anti-corruption measures including, in Article 10 of the Convention, the provision of public access to information concerning government activities. (4/10/05)

Pakistan : The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has used the occasion of International Right to Know Day on 28 September to demand that the Government strengthen the national Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance 2002. CPDI demanded, among other issues, that the large amount of information exempted from public disclosure be strictly limited; the Government provide information in a rapid and fair manner; and information be provided if the public interest in releasing information outweighs interests in witholding it. Although Pakistan possesses a FOI law, CPDI's demands reflect weaknesses in a law that has proved ineffective in improving governance. (4/10/05)

United Kingdom: The Department of Constitutional Affairs has released its Freedom of Information statistics for the April-June quarter. The report found that 8,400 requests for information were received during the quarter, 89% of which have been processed. For both the first and second quarters combined, the total number of requests that went to review was 806. Of the 564 of these processed, 79% had their information requests granted. However, the Accessible Information Clearing House, the unit within government tasked with processing requests, has been criticised for devising a guidance note advising civil servants to use "the principle of Neither Confirm nor Deny (NCND)" to fend off requests for whether a particular piece of information exists.(03/10/05)

International: September 28 was International Right to Know Day as declared by the International Freedom of Information Advocates Network- a day dedicated to creating awareness about the importance of the right to information and campaigning for more open, democratic societies in which there is full citizen empowerment and participation in government. CHRI initiated a number of campaigns as part of its activities for RTK day, including sending out a background note on RTI to our network of partners and media organiations across the Commonwealth. We also sent letters to the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Executive Secretary to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) urging them to implement disclosure policies. Our background note and advocacy letters were used in a number of publications in the Commonwealth in countries such as the Maldives, Sierra Leone, Guayana, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Fiji & Malta. (28/09/05)

India: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reportedly agreed to exclude file notings from coverage under the recently enacted Right to Information Act 2005.The bureaucracy has in recent weeks been making this demand. Singh has assured President A P J Abdul Kalam that "file notings are part of the deliberation process, and if necessary the government will bring in an amendment to the RTI Act to block file notings from being shown to the public." RTI campaigners are planning to protest the decision and file a petition in the Supreme Court.(22/09/05)

United Kingdom: The BBC has revealed that between January and July 2005 it has spent £415,000 on staff dedicated to working on information requests. Since the Freedom of Information Act 2000 was introduced on 1 January, the corporation has dealt with 746 requests. The bulk of these requests were received in January and February, since then the amount has levelled off. Most of the requests have been dealt with by a five member information policy and compliance team. The total cost of the unit so far has been £258,000 - £197,000 in staff costs, £59,500 in IT and telephony and £2,000 for "other costs".They have been helped by staff from the BBC's executive business unit and the governance unit, costing £34,000. In addition, the cost of BBC policy and legal staff allocated to work on FOI requests has been £123,000. (19/09/05)

Pacific: CHRI and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association held a Workshop on Freedom of Information for Pacific MPs from 1-2 September. 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. CPA has now circulated the Conclusions from the Pacific FOI Workshop for MPs. (15/09/05)

Australia: The University of Murdoch (Western Australia) is conducting a survey into the effectiveness of FOI laws in Australia, Thailand, the United States, Sweden and South Africa. The survey will be used to compile the first ever international Freedom of Information index that will rank each country in accordance with how their FOI regimes work in practice. The initial findings of the survey have shown that the effectiveness of Australia's FOI Act has been severely eroded by the use of expensive processing fees for requests. The survey also places some of the blame for the poor performance of Australia's FOI regime on the effect of anti-terror policies. (13/09/05)

World Trade Organisation: On 12 August, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) declared that it would allocate 400 seats for members of the public to attend its first ever open public hearings in a dispute case next month (between the EU, the United States and Canada). The announcement is a breakthrough for those pressuring the WTO to enact a disclosure policy in an organisation much criticised for its lack of transparency. (28/08/05)

Australia: On 2 August, the Full Bench of the Federal Court dismissed an appeal by The Australian newspaper to access Treasury documents using the national FOI Act concerning income tax cuts and housing grants. The Federal Court judgement upheld the use of Ministerial Certificates to block access to the documents. The Court endorsed the Government's argument that the Minsterial Certificate only needed to be justified by showing there were "reasonable grounds for the claim [in the Ministerial Certificate] that the disclosure ... would be contrary to the public interest", which meant that the claim should not be "irrational, absurd or ridiculous". The issue is distinct from the question of whether the non-disclosure is properly and finally determined to be in the public interest after a weighing up of all the grounds and reasons. The ruling may yet be appealed to the High Court but, as it stands, has seriously undermined the effectiveness of the FOIA through its narrow interpretation of the public interest. (22/08/05)

Mauritius: Last month, President Sir Anerood Jugnauth announced the new Government's 2005-2010 programme, which included plans to introduce a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Although the government is yet to announce a timetable for the introduction of the Act, the inclusion of FOI in the government's programme may signal the country's first step towards effecting Right to Information legislation. (18/08/05)

United Kingdom: APR Smartlogik recently conducted a monitoring survey of the Freedom of Information Act in the United Kingdom during its first three months of operation. It found that the average public enquiry took six hours to complete and cost 150 pounds per enquiry in contrast to four pounds for other general queries. The results show that the UK government needs urgently to improve its information management frameworks in order to ensure easy public access to information, which is crucial to the effectiveness of the law. (17/08/05)

Scotland: The Scottish Executive has issued a Section 31 Certificate that exempts certain infromation from disclosure under the the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 related to the security logistics for the G-8 Summit that was held at the Gleneagles Hotel between 6-8 July, 2005. The categories of information that are exempt include the resources used and briefing information for personnel to ensure security at the event. The certificate is likely to draw criticism from rights groups after protesters were kept well away from the site of the summit as a result of suspicions of the substantial costs of ensuring security at the event. (09/08/05)

Mozambique: After five years of consultations, local media and NGO groups finalised a civil society Freedom of Information Bill during a recent media seminar held in Maputo. It is hoped that the draft Bill will become a law in the next two years. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, Paulo Assuboji, has said that the document was only under review and legal advisors were expected to comment at a later stage. Click here for more information. (08/08/05)

Pacific: On 17 June 2005, the ADB launched a new website and public access kiosk in its South Asi Sub-regional Office (SPSO) in Suva in th Fiji Islands. Both of these are designed to improve public access to information on the ADB's activities in the region. More specifically, the kiosk will give the public a better understanding of the Bank's role in economic development in the region and will play a crucial role in enhancing local trust in its regional operations. (29/07/05)

Kenya: The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) on July 27 launched its first state of human rights reports since its establishment in 2003. The report found that the government has obstructed progress with the development of key rights in the country, including public access to information. On launching the report, KNCHR chairman Maina Kiai noted that the government had used the Official Secrets Act to withhold requested information from the public, media, and even the Commission itself. (29/07/05)

International: Transparency International and the UN Human Settlement Programme have published a report on "Tools to Support Transparency in Local Governance". The report sets out strategies to improve local governance in urban areas, and a key section is devoted to highlighting how the Right to Information can be a useful tool in promoting increased transparency by ensuring pubic participation in the local governance process. (26/07/05)

South Africa: The South African History Archive has released its report on "Justice, Unfinished Business and Access to Information", following its 2004 Conference on the issue. Part of the Conference was devoted to the findings of a survey comparing the implementation of RTI laws in Armenia, Maecedonia, South Africa, Peru and Bulgaria. The survey found that, despite possessing the most progressive RTI legislation out of the five countries, South Africa recorded the highest number of ‘mute responses’ and the lowest number of successful requests. Conference speakers attributed South Africa's poor performance to a number of failures ultimately linked to a lack of political will to ensure the effective developments of systems. (20/07/05)

UK: Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas has revealed his top ten tips for public authorities to avoid complaints. Since the Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force in January 2005, Thomas has received 1,157 FOI complaints, of these, 224 cases have been closed, mainly informally, but 19 formal Decision Notices have been issued. Recognising that many of these complaints involve procedural issues, the tips encourage authorities to disclose information wherever possible, use publication schemes proactively etc. The tips also remind public officials to meet the 20 day deadline and to be clear when issuing refusal notices.Click here for more information. (15/07/05)

India: In recent weeks, newspapers have reported a growing number of government agencies requesting to be exempt from coverage under the provisions of the recently enacted Central Right to Information Act 2005. Alarmingly, these include frontline public sector organisations like the Central Bureau of Investigations, Central Vigilance Commission and the Delhi Police who have requested inclusion in the list of exempt agencies in the Second Schedule of the Act. These are all government agencies, in the public service and paid for by public money with the express functions of promoting transparency, accountability and good governance. Till date the Government has made no public response to these requests. (14/07/05)

The Americas: In a major breakthrough, the Inter-American Court is now considering its first ever right to access public information case in a suit filed against the Chilean government. In 1998, the Chilean government refused to meet a request by a local NGO, the Terram Foundation, for information concerning the environmental and general track record of a company heading major logging investment in the country. Chile's courts dismissed appeals by the NGO but South American rights groups later filed a petition on behalf of Terram with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights - a body linked to the Inter-American Court. In April 2004, the Commission found that Chile had violated Article 13 of the American Convention guaranteeing the right to access public information. In particular, the Commission's report on the case dismissed Chile's claims that the issue was covered by commercial confidentiality. The Commission urged Chile to resolve the issue in 60 days, which it failed to do, leading the Commission to take the unprecedented step of referring the case to the Court by petition. For more information on the case, click here. (14/07/05)

India: The Government of Delhi has published its Status Report on the number of applications received and processed under the Delhi Right to Information Act till May 2005. The Report records by Government Department the number of applications received and disposed off as well as the number of cases where information was and was not given. (08/07/05)

Canada: It has been announced that Prime Minister Paul Martin has grudgingly re-appointed Information Commissioner John Reid for a mere 90 days, far short of the two years that Reid had requested as his term draws to a close. Reid has become a champion of open government since his appointment and has pinpointed a number of reforms he would like to accomplish before he ends his tenure. His extension comes as a result of the apparent lack of a suitable replacement and failure of the secretive selection process undertaken by the Canadian government. Click here for more information. (07/07/05)

India: President A P J Kalam after giving his assent on 15 June 2005 to the new national Right to Information Bill 2005 made recommendations to the Centre for amendments to the Act. Kalam has maintained that there should be confidentiality between the Head of State and the Prime Minister, as well as the exclusion of notes of senior bureaucrats to ensure that they can make decisions without pressure. Click here for more information. The Central Government has decided not to implement the President's suggestions on the Act. Click here for more information.The Act was notified in the Official Gazette on 21 June 2005, with Presidential assent the Central Government and State Governments now have 120 days to implement the provisions of the Bill in its entirety. (04/07/05)

United Kingdom: The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) has released its First Quarterly Implementation Report providing statistics on the implementation of the FOIA 2000 across the Central Government from January-March 2005. (30/06/05)

United Kingdom: After almost 6 months in operation, recent statistics released by the Campaign for Freedom of Information show that more than a third of all requests under the FOI Act have exceeded the 20-working day deadline and many departments have shown little commitment to the principles of the Act. More positively, the Department of Transport and the Ministry of Defence are exceptions and have provided full answers in 76% and 67% of all cases, respectively, as well as a strong commitment to pushing forward towards disclosure. Click here for more. (23/06/2005)

India: On 15 June 2005, President APJ Abdul Kalam gave his assent to the national Right to Information Act 2005 which had previously been passed with amendments by the Lok Sabha (11 May) and the Rajya Sabha (12 May). With presidential assent, the Central Government and State Governments now have 120 days to implement the provisions of the Bill in its entirety. Click here for more information. (22/06/05)

India: From 24-26 May 2005, CHRI organised a national workshop " Effective Implementation: Preparing to Operationalise the Right to Information Act 2005" in New Delhi. The Conference brought together senior government officials from the Centre and States, with key representatives from civil society and international experts from the UK, Jamaica, Canada, South Africa and Mexico to discuss key implementation issues and challenges regarding the new Right to Information Act 2005. The Conference Report is a summary of the key points and discussions that took place at the Conference. Click here for articles on the Conference.(22/06/05)

Pacific: Members of the executive of the Pacific Islands News Association, PINA, and other media practitioners from various Pacific Forum countries have been meeting at the Forum Secretariat in Suva over the past two days as part of the Forum’s regional consultations in the preparation of the Pacific Plan , which will set out a blueprint guide the Forum's work in the short-, medium - and long-term. In a Press Release, representatives have specifically called for the adoption of Freedom of Information legislation throughout the Pacific Islands to be included in the Pacific Plan. The Regional Media Consultation group has even stated that within the next three years, they believe ut is possible to achieve regional recognition that government information is the property of the people and in the interests of transparency and accountability Pacific Island Countries develop and adopt Freedom of Information legislation. (21/06/2005)

Canada: John Reid, the Information Commissioner of Canada, has delivered a scathing Annual Report to Parliament. He noted that there is a perceived culture of "Do not tell anything to anybody" and found an entrenched bureaucracy dedicated to secrecy. It has been reported that Reid's tenure ends on 30 June 2005, but he has requested an extension to update the Act and reduce his Office's financial dependence on Government. However, his extension is considered unlikely. Click here for more. (22/06/05)

Namibia: The Government has declared a new commitment to combating the corruption rampant in the public and private sectors and given hope that legal measures will finally be implemented. After five years of inaction, it has been reported that both a Freedom of Information Act and more legislation to combat corruption are on the cards for Namibia. Click here for more. (21/06/05)

Organization of American States: For the third time, the Organization of American States (OAS) has ratified a resolution on the importance of access to public information for democracy. At their 2005 meeting, held in Florida, USA, the OAS Assembly passed resolutions on the Right to Freedom of Thought and Expression and the Importance of the Media and Access to Public
Information: Strengthening Democracy
. Click here for more information. (15/06/05)

Canada : In a move to “reflect the principles of accountability,” the central government of Canada will bring a draft bill to update the 22-year-old federal Access to Information Act. According to Irwin Cotler, Justice Minister, the old act has an excess of exemptions as well as a lack of whistleblower protection. Federally, only 20 percent of Crown corporations are subject to releasing information. For more information, click here. (03/06/05)

South Africa: The South African History Archives has produced a review of the South African Human Rights Commission's recently released Users Guide to the Promotion of Access to Information Act. (25/05/05)

Nigeria: The National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) has called for a constitutional provision that will grant “individuals, including the press, unfettered access to information.” The NPRC's Committee on Anti-Corruption Reforms, in addition to calling for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, recommended enacting a Whistleblower Protection Bill as well, to create the transparency and accountability necessary for good governance in the young democracy. For more information, click here. (20/05/2005)

India: The national Right to Information Bill 2005 has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. (NB: This version of the Bill was obtained from the DOPT, but contains some typograhpical errors. Please do not rely on this as the final clean version.) 146 amendments to the Act were tabled in the most recent session of Parliament and passed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on 11 May and the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) on 12 May. The new RTI Bill now awaits Presidential assent. Once assent is received, the Government will have 120 days to prepare for implementation. CHRI has produced a summary of the RTI Bill. CHRI has also produced a brief analysis of the RTI Bill which analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the new law. (NB: The analysis can be accessed at the website) (17/05/05)

Nigeria: On 22 April in Abuja, the Senate Committee on Information finally conducted the postponed public hearing on the Freedom of Information Bill. The Senate hearing was well attended by politicians, lawyers, journalists and NGOs. CHRI separately submitted Recommendations for Improving the Bill to the Committee in writing. Recognising Freedom of Information as a fundamental human right necessary for democracy and development, Senators referred to several occasions where FOI legislation could have prevented excesses. In a positive step, Senators committed to "ensure the passage of the bill like the Lower House did". Looking to the South African legislation as potential model, they were hopeful for narrow exemptions and accountability to be imposed on the private sector as well. Nigerians, they believed, have reason to look forward to a culture of transparency and openness emerging with the passage of the bill. (26/04/05)

Jersey (British Isles): The government has initiated a process to replace the existing ‘Code of Practice on Public Access to Official Information’ with a legal right to access government information. The Privileges and Procedures Committee submitted an FOI position paper to the States on 19 April for their consideration, proposing the enactment of a Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 200-. The stated aim is to “define clear statutory responsibilities, duties and rights and be enforceable in a way a code can never be.” CHRI provided practical advice and comments on the proposal before it was finalised. (25/04/05)

South Africa: The Instutute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) applied to the courts seeking disclosure of information about private funding to political parties. The Cape Town High Court ruled that(i) political parties are "private bodies" and (ii) the information sought regarding the funding of these bodies was not essential to any constitutional rights (as is required by the Promotion of Access to Infomation Act in respect of access to information from private bodies) and therefore was exempt from disclosure. For more, click here (20/04/05)

Uganda: Parliament has passed the Access to Information Bill, intended to give citizens access to information and records of government ministries, departments, statutory corporations, commissions and other government agencies. The Bill provides protection to whistleblowers against punishment and for the appointment of an information officer to allow access to records in a given government ministry. It requires the Minister of Information to submit an annual report to Parliament on the requests to access information. Buikwe North MP, Mr Wagonda Muguli, has said: “The passing of this Bill is one step in the right direction because access to information in government possession is one of the ways of promoting transparency and good governance.” There is some concern however that the Bill will be rendered ineffective by the broad scope of its exemptions which include information likely to jeopardize the sovereignty of the State, privacy of the individual, Cabinet records, court proceedings before the conclusion of a case, information held by private corporations or civil society organizations etc. (13/04/05)

Commonwealth: Key Government officials, partner organisations and representatives of civil society from all 18 Commonwealth countries in Africa met in Nairobi, Kenya between the 4-6 of April, 2005, at the ComSec Pan-African Forum on the Commonwealth Principles on the Accountability of and the Relationship Between the Three Branches of Government (Latimer House Principles) to consider ways of operationalising the Principles in practice. The Forum Communique affirmed that the Right to Know is a fundamental human right and that it had a major role to play in achieving transparency and accountability and securing public confidence. (06/04/05)

Europe: A coalition of civil society groups has written a letter to the Rapporteur Group on Human Rights of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to develop a binding convention on the right of access to information. The convention would be based on Council of Europe Recommendation 2002(2) on Access to Official Documents. The coalition has called for the implementation o a strong access law with all the highest standards contained in national freedom of information laws.

Canada: On 5 April, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Mr Irwin Cotler, presented a comprehensive framework for access to information reform to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The Discussion Paper outlines the Government’s views on access reform issues for the Committee’s consideration before the development of amendments. “Considering the magnitude and impact of the ATI Act, we must come together as Parliamentarians to discuss it, we must hear from expert witnesses, we must consider all elements, all perspectives, all people,” said Minister Cotler. “We all share a common goal: to have the most comprehensive and workable access legislation possible. The Committee plays an invaluable role in the reform of legislation, and its input is essential - indeed, a prerequisite before tabling amendments”. (05/04/05)

Jamaica : The Access to Information Advisory Committee of Stakeholders has urged the Appeals Tribunal for new draft rules to govern the Access to Information Act 2002. The Committee's recommendations follow concerns that the current rules render the Tribunal inaccessible to the public and deny access to critical information. The Committee has advised the Minister of Information to ensure that the new rules "are expeditiously drafted so that the Tribunal can begin to operate".

India: The Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee reviewing the Right to Information Bill 2004 was tabled in Parliament on 21 March 2005. The Committee's report comes after a series of consultations with civil society groups and activists. Its recommendations (reflected in a proposed amended version of the Bill annexed to the Report) include, extending coverage of the exisiting bill to include the Centre, State and local bodies, a fee exemption for the poor, strengthening penalty provisions and the setting up of both Central and State Information Commissions. The Committee's recommendationzxs will now be debated in Parliament. CHRI's tabulated and running text analysis of the report highlights the recommendations for change to the RTI Bill 2004 made by the Committee.(27/03/05)

Nigeria: On 22 February, the Freedom of Information Bill scaled a major hurdle at the Senate as it sailed through the second reading with strong support from most Senators. The Senate, which concluded debates on the Bill, passed it for the second reading and referred it to the Senate Committee on Information to conduct a more detailed examination of the Bill and report back to the full house in three weeks. The Senate Committee on Information has postposed the public hearing of the bill scheduled for 22 March to 12 April after the National Assembly was disrupted by allegations of bribery against some of its members. (24/03/05)

Cameroon: Speaking at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Conference in London, Cameroon's Minister of Economy and Finance, Mr Abah Abah Polycarp, pledged the government would begin publishing information on the country's total oil production, prices and revenue on a quarterly basis before the end of June 2005.

Cook Islands: The Cook Islands draft Official Information Bill has been completed and is ready to be submitted to Cabinet for approval. It was commissioned by the Cook Islands National Broadcasting Corporation (CINBC) and was completed following a series of media workshops on freedom of information organized by CINBC and the New Zealand Journalists Training Organization. The bill modelled on New Zealand's Act with minor changes includes provisions for maximum disclosure, pro-active disclosure, independent review of refusals and whistleblower protection. The CINBC Board has submitted a comprehensive information paper to the Prime Minister and members of Cabinet on the freedom of information. (17/03/2005)

United Kingdom: The Report of the Commission of Africa was launched on 11 March 2004 by Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The Report urges Africa's leaders to hasten towards democracy and take effective steps to wipe out corruption. At page 31 the Report specifically emphasises the importance of transparency in governance, mentioning access to information as key to achieving this objective. For example, the Report states: "For political leaders to be held accountable, citizens must have proper information about government revenues and budget allocations... Greater access to information about the government's activities strengthens the public's ability to participate in the policy-making process by making their voices heard." (15/03/05)

Fiji: Preceding the Prime Minister's Corporate Governance Summit held from the 11-12 March 2005, to discuss corporate governance, accountability and transparency, Professor Ron Duncan of the University of the South Pacific stated that a Whistleblowers Act was essential to the practice of good governance and a necessary means to combat corruption in Fiji. In response, New Zealand lawyer, Michael Scott, a whistleblower himself, stated that a Whistleblowers Act may not work in Fiji based on its limited success in New Zealand. (15/03/05)

Mexico: The Third International Conference of Information Commissioners hosted by Mexico's Information Commission, IFAI, was held in Cancún, from February 20-23, 2005. The Conference brought together Information Commissioners, government representatives, civil society groups, ngos, academics and legal experts from more than 50 countries. The Cancun Declaration issued at the Conference reaffirmed delegates committment to open and transparent government through access to information. (10/03/05)

India: In February, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice called for written and oral submissions on the Right to Information Bill 2004 tabled in Parliament on 24 December 2004. CHRI submitted written Recommendations on the RTI Bill prior to giving evidence before the Committee on 14 and 16 February. CHRI made a Supplementary Submission on the RTI Bill on 21 February. The proceedings of the Committee are currently confidential, but it is understood that the Committee's recommendations will be published shortly. (04/03/05)

South Africa: Sections 24 and 25 of the Judicial Matters Second Amendment Bill 2003 propose to amend the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2000 by strengthening the penalty provisions, thus increasing the pressure on public officials to comply with the law. The newly proposed penalty provisions will hold a public official liable for up to two years imprisonment if s/he wilfully, or in a grossly negligent manner does not comply with the Act. (01/03/05)

Australia: The Victorian Ombudsman has flagged his intention to release a discussion paper in February inviting people who use the FOI Act to make submissions regarding their concerns about the State's FOI laws. This will be part of an inquiry into the way requests are handled by the Government. About 10 Government departments are in the inquiry's spotlight, which comes after a 10 per cent increase in complaints about the delays involved in accessing documents. (24/01/05)

Uganda: The Coalition for Freedom of Information & Human Rights Network Uganda have published an Analysis of the Access to Information Bill (No. 7/2004) in the context of engendering an Open, Transparent and Accountable Government in Uganda which was submitted to the relevant Parliament Standing Committee in December 2004 for consideration. It is anticipated that the ATI Bill will be discussed in Parliament in February 2005. (10/01/05)

UK: The UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 has come into force, as from the 1st January 2005. The Act gives people the right to access to Government held information from more than 100,000 public bodies. For more information about the details and usage of the Act, go to the Information Commissioner’s website. (01/01/05)