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Right to Information


News Updates (Archives) - 2008

Bangladesh: An eight-member government-formed body prepared a primary draft in February; opinions from different stakeholders were sought before the Information Ministry submitted it to the Cabinet on June 18. The Council of Advisors passed the Right to Information (RTI) Ordinance 2008 which was gazetted on 21 October but people will have to wait 90 working days before they can use the law to get information. Under the new law, people will have to pay fees for seeking information.

Within the 90 working days, an information commission will be formed for proper execution of the law and resolving public complaints regarding information. All preparation for releasing information under the law would be made within these 90 days. The RTI Ordinance does not cover National Security Intelligence, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, Military Intelligence Directorate, Special Security Force, Criminal Investigation Department of Police and Central Intelligence Cell of the National Board of Revenue. (24/11/08)

Tonga: A recent workshop held in Tonga on ‘Parliament and the Media’ concluded that the Tongan Government should prioritise the enactment of a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. The workshop highlighted many concerns relating to the right to information, including the banning of media from parliament, members of parliament deciding their own salaries and the absence of official policy on the disclosure of information. Participants in the workshop included Tongan cabinet ministers, parliamentarians including the Attorney General, together with MPs from New Zealand and Australia, experts and interest groups.

Chairman of the workshop, Samiu Vaipulu, acknowledged that Tonga was striving for a more democratic form of government but stressed there was a lot of work to be done and supported the call for FOI legislation. Attorney General, Hon. Alisi Taumoepeau agreed to support the legislation but indicated that an FOI bill was unlikely to be tabled in the House this year. (8/10/08)

United States: In July, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter forwarded the Atlanta Declaration and Plan of Action for the Advancement of the Right to Information to all heads of state and leaders of the major international organizations and financial institutions. The Declaration calls on all states and intergovernmental organizations to enact legislation and instruments for the exercise, full implementation and effective enforcement of a right of access to information. It further encourages all stakeholders to take concrete steps to establish, develop, protect and promote the right of access to information. The Atlanta Declaration and Plan of Action was the product of the Carter Center's International Conference on the Right to Public Information, held February 27-29, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. (05/08/08)

Trinidad & Tobago: The Government has declined to disclose the identities of beneficiaries of $45 million worth of scholarships, citing the Freedom of Information Act to support the decision. The Culture Minister, Marlene McDonald, argued that disclosure recipients' identities would be against the public interest. The position of the Government is that disclosing this information "would involve unreasonable disclosure of personal information," namely the education history of the individual recipients, and further the entire process of the awarding of assistance was "a transaction of a financial nature" in which the individual is involved "by virtue of his assistance." Reginald Dumas, a retired head of the public service, classified this as "yet another dark step in the Government's march towards secrecy," and noted, "the question of the award of scholarships has to logically fall within the overall plan for development of the country which is clearly not private." (06/07/08)

Malta: Debate in the House of Representatives over the draft Freedom of Information Bill continued with members of both sides contributing to the debate. Among others, Evarist Bartolo, Opposition spokesperson for Education and Media, criticised the legislators for using the United Kingdom's Freedom of Information Act 2000 as a model, and indicated that the opposition is totally against the Information and Data Protection Commissioner assuming the added responsibility of safeguarding the Freedom of Information Act. In answer to the criticisms, Parliamentary Secretary for Public Dialogue and Information Chris Said said the UK FOI Act was not the only source of the proposed enactment, and that most of the technical issues will be discussed at Committee Stage. After a second reading the Bill was unanimously approved and sent to Committee Stage. (15/07/08)

Pakistan: A consultation programme organised by the Consumers Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP) concluded by demanding of the government that the proposed Freedom of Information Bill 2008 should come into force only after holding detailed consultation with all of the stakeholders. Participants indicated there are a number of provisions in the proposed Bill that entail serious implications and require further revision. During the final session of the consultation programme various recommendations were presented in light of the views expressed by the participants, such as the inclusion of whistleblower protection, the adoption of a 'public interest' test, and the further clarification of numerous definitions. (15/07/08)

Cayman Islands: According to a study conducted by Government Information Services in May 2008, the two focus groups concerned - Cayman’s media and the general public -demonstrated little confidence in the success of the country’s first Freedom of Information Law. Along with numerous recommendations for change, the government’s analysis of the focus group meetings indicates, “the real danger for freedom of information is that the civil service is not ready and/or don’t have the resources to successfully implement the law, and that the public might have unattainable expectations causing them to lose interest in FOI.” In the study both groups indicated their intention to request minutes of government-appointed board meetings, and the salaries of public servants; however, the attorney organising civil service preparations for the law said there will probably be restrictions placed on both areas. Feedback from the community focus group indicated members of the public were unsure whether the government had a “real commitment” to the spirit of the FOI law in reference to a long-standing “culture of secrecy” in the Cayman Islands civil service. Regulations to the FOI law are currently being drafted but will have to be approved by the Cayman Islands Cabinet before taking effect. (13/07/08)

Scotland: The Scottish Government is considering extending freedom of information legislation to cover private bodies which perform public functions, though, arguably, this would require no change to the current law. Under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, 2002, they would need to "appear to the Scottish Ministers to exercise functions of a public nature; or [be] providing, under a contract made with a Scottish public authority, any service whose provision is a function of that authority." The move is intended to take account of the fact that public bodies are increasingly using private companies and commercial agreements to carry out functions that are essentially public. Parliamentary Business Minister Bruce Crawford said that he would discuss the move with the Welsh and UK Governments before making a decision about a formal consultation. (03/0708)

Cayman Islands: Plans for the appointment of the Information Commissioner, created pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law, 2007, are currently underway. Cabinet has approved Regulations that will allow Governor Stuart Jack to appoint up to five members for the information commissioner selection committee, including at least one political opposition member, and at least one member of the general public. Noting the Information Commissioner may be removed from office by Cabinet before the expiration of his or her term, both Auditor General Dan Duguay and Complaints Commissioner John Epp have voiced concerns about the independence of the Information Commissioner. Mr. Duguay stated, “you have to make sure the incumbents feel comfortable to make comments that they need to make and you’re trying to provide them with that assurance that they won’t be dismissed if somebody disagrees [with a controversial ruling].” The FOI law is due to come into effect in January 2009 and will enable anyone to request records held by a public authority. (03/07/08)

The Cook Islands: The Cook Islands passed its Official Information Act on 14 February 2008, becoming the first Pacific Island Country with a right to information law. There will be a twelve month period before the Act comes into force to enable ministries to become familiar with their new duties and to update their records management systems. The law places an obligation on the Government to proactively disclose key information to the public and to respond to their requests for information. Ombudsman Janet Maki has asserted that officials should not feel uneasy about their obligations under the new law stating “If they have done the best job they can, why should they be afraid of the public knowing what they do?” (19/02/08)