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CHOGM 2003 Report

Open Sesame: Looking for the Right to Information in the Commonwealth

Erratum: Please note that some advance copies of the Report were distributed with an error. At p.14 and p.78 of the Report, Botswana was described as having no laws on access to information. However, s.12 of the Botswana Constitution protects the freedom to receive information and ideas without interference as part of the right to freedom of expression. At p.14 of the Report, The Gambia was listed in Column 3 of the RTI Status Table, but should have been listed in Column 4 because it has no laws on the right to information. We apologise for these inadvertent errors.

Open Sesame: Executive Summary (1.3 MB)

Open Sesame: Full Report (1.7 MB)


Chapter 1 Right To Information: Touchstone For Democracy And Development

A Liberal information-sharing regime guaranteed by law is the practical answer to the Commonwealth's present search for deeper democracy and people-centered development. Access to information is both a practical short cut to achieving the goals of poverty eradication and good governance that the Commonwealth strives for and a long recognized human right. Human beings need information in order to realize their full social, political and economic potential. It is a public resource, garnered and stored by government in trust for people. The challenge is to share it equitably and manage it to the best advantage of all society. But, the human right to access information remains undervalued in the Commonwealth both by member states and the Secretariat. Only a handful of member countries promote and protect this right, the institutions of the Commonwealth do not yet have disclosure policies. This situation needs to change as a matter of priority.

Chapter 2 Balancing The Scales Of Power: Legislating For Access

Commonwealth countries must put in place domestic laws that entrench the right to access information. Key principles, which should be reflected in all access to information laws, along with examples from throughout the Commonwealth provide direction to law-makers and activists to evolve people-friendly laws. The Commonwealth has some of the best-crafted laws to draw upon. International standards and guidelines also provide assistance.

Chapter 3 Making it work: Entrenching Openness

Legislation is a valuable first step towards putting in place an access regime, but it is not enough. Opening up government requires complementary systems that support administrative reform, protect whistleblowers and encourage wide consultation. Conflicting laws must be amended. Removing obstructions to open government needs independent arbiters to monitor performance, adjudicate conflict, educate the public and promote good practice and training within bureaucracies. Most of all open government needs political will to overcome long-standing cultures of government secrecy because experience shows that changing mind-sets has proved very difficult, even in places that have long established laws.

Chapter 4 People Power: Civil Society Advocacy Experiences

Whether working at grassroots to support demands for economic justice, exposing scandals that save nations millions of development dollars, helping governments to craft laws, or working across jurisdictions to promote best practice, the spur for open government has come from civil society. The techniques and strategies these groups have used and their success and setbacks are sources of inspiration, as well as practical ideas, for other groups across the Commonwealth.


Country Chart

References and Endnotes

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