Journalist Urges Reform of Thai FOI Law

29 November 2010

A prominent journalist has urged that changes be made in Thailand’s Official Information Act (OIA), arguing that in practice the law had been “a tale of disappointment, betrayal and procrastination.”

Writing in The Nation Nov. 29, Kavi Chongkittavorn called on the government to propose reforms in the context of other media-related bills that are under consideration. Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist and assistant group editor of Nation Media Group.

He wrote “two important amendments should be made” – to make the OIA office independent and to shorten the time frame for responses to requests.

“At the moment, the OIA is under the care of the Prime Minister’s Office, which has the power to undermine the information disclosure,” he wrote, continuing, “It should be an independent organisation as soon as possible.” Chongkittavorn added:

The Official Information Act Commission still comprises bureaucrats with strong mindsets on treating the government information and data as a national secret not to be shared with the public. Although outside experts were called upon, they did not have any great impact.

The PM’s Office is supposed to assist all concerned ministries and government agencies across Thailand to comply with the OIA and enable an environment for further disclosure. But that has not been the case.

In addition, he advocated, the phrase “suitable time” used in the 1997 freedom of information act to define government response time is too vague.  “This loophole allows the concerned agencies to drag their feet, using it as an effective tool to block further information release,” he wrote.

Looking further at implementation under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Chongkittavorn said:

It is incumbent on the Abhisit government to urge all government agencies to comply with the letter of the law. Over 4,000 government agencies throughout the country have not yet set up an access to information unit. Officials refusing to cooperate must be seriously reprimanded. Terms of punishment must also be changed. For the time being, those who refuse disclosure receive smaller fines and jail terms than those who reveal faulty information. It should be the other way round.

While the overall transparency has increased under the current government, further efforts are needed as Abhisit wants to make Thailand more competitive and practise good governance. For instance, in the past two years, he has emphasised accountability and effective management in using public money.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under: What's New