World Bank Publishes Major Database on FOI Laws

6 April 2011

The World Bank April 4 posted a detailed database on freedom of information laws in 88 countries.

The Bank does not rate or rank the countries, but the database is expected to be a trove of information for comparative research. The Bank now is moving into research on FOI implementation issues.

The database collects information about FOI laws in seven broad categories with 30 subcategories.

The broad categories are:

– legal framework,

– coverage of information,

– procedures for accessing information,

– exemptions to disclosure requirements,

– enforcement mechanism,

– deadlines for release of information and

– sanctions for non-compliance.

The full list of categories is here.

Mixed Sample

The countries selected do not all have freedom of information laws.  Nor were all countries with FOI laws included.  

The Bank’s aim was to create a  “sample” — intentionally weighted with less developed counties and identical to the list used for other data-gathering for the umbrella project on “public accountability.” The group includes 75 countries with either a constitutional requirement of access to information or a separate law specifying access to information, and of those countries, there are 61 countries with a separate law specifying access to information.  (Data is currently not posted on a handful of countries.)

As part of the overall project, the Bank has assembled information on asset disclosure rules for public officials, released last year, and is gathering information on conflict of information rules, expected out in June.

No Public Scoring

The Bank has conducted analysis on the data, including scoring each country, but will not release that information externally. 

The Bank for internal purposes scored each of the 30 subcategories “yes” (1), or “no” (0). Averages were then figured and specific aspects of FOI legal frameworks for each country were rated on a 1-5 scale.

But a Bank official explained that the numerical data provides only a partial picture of the full FOI environment. So the ratings will be used internally to help educate Bank officials about individual countries.

The best straight peek into the material is a page listing all the countries.  Click on a country and then on “freedom of information.” All the data displays in one file, although this may change soon to show the categories first with another click to the data itself.

All the data will be downloadable, but not quite yet. The “quick download” feature for individual country data isn’t working yet either. But a download of individual country data is possible from the right side of each country page.

Also, some charts that have been created based on the aggregated data are about to be posted. They will look at such things as the use of different oversight regimes across different regions.

The Bank’s external website does not link directly to the country laws, barred from doing so by Bank lawyers with copyright concerns. Instead, a section on “Legal Sources” contains links to country institutions where the laws can be accessed.

Development of the database has taken more than four years, begun with a pilot in 2006 with fits and starts due to data accuracy issues. Eventually the Bank turned to local experts to provide the raw material. Bank officials could give no specific cost estimate.

The work was done by the at the Public Accountability Mechanisms (PAM) Initiative of the World Bank Public Sector Governance Group, and the project is now headed by Stephanie Trapnell.

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