Right to Information
The Key to Reducing Corruption and Enhancing Economic Growth
Charmaine Rodrigues & Peter Slough
Access to Information Programme, CHRI
distorts the efficient allocation of resources and impacts negatively
on sustainable economical growth, income equality and poverty
reduction," remarked Michael Potts, the Australian High Commissioner
to Papua New Guinea (PNG). While PNG strives to move development
forward and to stabilise its fragile democratic institutions,
it is a sad but a widely known fact that corruption is diverting
much-needed public funds away from important development initiatives.
PNG should commit
to entrenching the right to access information from government,
and private bodies in certain situations, as a key anti-corruption
strategy. For a relatively small cost and investment of time at
the outset, entrenchment of an effective access to information
regime will immediately show returns.
is allowed to flourish because politicians and bureaucrats alike
are aware that their actions and decisions are not open to public
scrutiny. Money is allegedly spent on economic and developmental
growth activities, but the public has no way of checking what
is actually being done. Are roads really being properly built
and maintained? Is sufficient money really being spent on schools
and health services?
The right to information
gives the public a practical tool, which can be used to oversee
government decision-making and expenditure. It opens up the government
to the public, thereby increasing transparency and reducing corruption.
Would government officials be as willing - or even as able - to
regularly act against the public interest, and in their own interest,
if they knew that their decisions could be examined by citizens
It is by no coincidence
that countries perceived to have the most corrupt governments
also have the lowest levels of development or that countries with
access to information laws are also perceived to be the least
corrupt. In 2003, of the ten countries scoring best on Transparency
International's Annual Corruption Perceptions Index, no fewer
than nine had effective legislation enabling the public to access
government information. Of the ten countries perceived to be the
worst in terms of corruption, not even one had a functioning Access
to Information regime.
with a simple legal right to demand information from the government
will also empower them to meaningfully engage in their own development.
The right to information is necessary to ensure development activities
are appropriate and sustainable, thus giving them the best chance
As Kofi Annan,
the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has observed: "The
great democratising power of information has given us all the
chance to effect change and alleviate poverty in ways we cannot
With information on our side, with knowledge
a potential for all, the path to poverty can be reversed."
right to information is also good for the economy - open governance,
with its associated anti-corruption focus, makes countries more
attractive to foreign investors. At the high policy end, parliamentarians
and the public can exercise their right to access information
to obtain documents on trade and economic policy. Investors can
also rely on the continual availability of timely and accurate
information about government policies, the operation of regulatory
authorities and financial institutions and the criteria used to
award tenders, provide licences and give credit. At the other
end of the spectrum, people can use their right to access information
regarding, for example, taxation, wages and government spending.
Though PNG does
not yet have freedom of information legislation, Article 51 of
the Constitution explicitly recognises the right of reasonable
access to official documents, subject only to the need for such
secrecy as is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
provision is however not enough. People cannot be expected to
undertake litigation in the courts every time they require a simple
piece of information from their government. Instead, legislation
should be put in place, which clearly sets out the rights of the
public to access information and the duties on officials to give
It is disappointing
that the Government has not yet provided the public with access
to the huge amounts of valuable information that it produces as
part of the routine discharge of its duties. Information does
not belong to officials, to be controlled and hoarded. Government
information belongs to the public - it is created with public
money by public servants paid by the public treasury. It is a
Any right to information
regime that is developed in PNG should be based on the international
best practice principle of maximum disclosure. In this era of
outsourcing of public services to private companies, even documents
held by private bodies should be included under law, where information
affects the right of citizens. Release of documents should be
the norm with the exception made for matters that go against the
public interest. Public interest should be narrowly defined though
- to protect things like national security or personal privacy.
This simply cannot be used to protect government from embarrassment
or to hide corruption.
continue to undermine economic and social development if it is
not identified as a matter of priority. The Government has repeatedly
stated its commitment to pursuing anti-corruption strategies -
the right to information provides one very tangible mechanism
which the Government can implement for relevant little cost but
major benefits. At the very least, this will have long-term governance,
development and economic benefits.
The Corruption Perceptions Index
is a poll reflecting the perceptions of business people
and country analysts, both resident and non-resident. This
year's Corruption Perceptions Index draws on 18 surveys
provided to Transparency International between 2002 and
2004, conducted by 12 independent institutions. The range
is between one and ten, with a score less than two perceived
to be rampant corruption, and ten being open and transparent
achieved a score of 2.6 in the Index and were ranked 102
out of 150 countries. The entrenchment of an effective,
comprehensive RTI regime would enable their government to
become more open and transparent and thus strike out corruption.
Supporting this statement is the fact that in the top ten
perceived countries in the index, nine have effective RTI
International Corruption Perceptions Index 2004
The Top ranked
3. + 4.
Denmark + Iceland
Bottom ranked countries
142. + 143.
145. + 146.
Chad + Myanmar
Bangladesh + Haiti