Serbia Tops New FOI Ratings, Austria Ranks Lowest

29 September 2011

A significant variation exists in the legal environment for right to information in 89 countries studied by Access Info Europe (Spain) and the Centre for Law and Democracy (Canada) that gives Serbia the highest rating.

The RTI Rating is “based on 61 indicators drawn from a wide range of international standards on the right to information, feedback from an international advisory council of renowned experts on the right to information and comparative study of numerous right to information and related laws from around the world.”

With a maximum possible score of 150, the ratings range from a low of 39 for Austria to 135 for Serbia. For a list with rankings, click here.

When the rankings were first issued Sept. 28,  Germany was ranked at the bottom with a score of 37, but a revison raised  Germany’s score to 54.

The vast majority of countries have a score over 60 out of 150 points (87% of countries have over 60 points). Two thirds of countries (64%) scored in the middle range, between 60 and 100 points out of 150.

“The top 20 countries with scores over 100 tend to be younger laws which reflect the progress made in international standard setting on this right in the past 20 years: with the exception of Finland (a score of 105 for a legal framework which includes a law adopted in 1951) the average age of the laws in the top 20 countries is just 5 years,” according to the website for the ratings.

“Features of the stronger laws include that they establish clear procedures for requesters and have strong oversight bodies. It may be too early to conclude how these laws will work in practice, but reports on implementation in some of the top countries, including Mexico, India, and Slovenia, support the conclusion that strong laws can lead to strong protections for the public’s right to know.”

Breakdown Shows Ranges

 The ratings are displayed in a map, graphs and a chart on the website.

Others in the upper range, besides Serbia, were Slovenia (130), India (130), El Salvador (127), Liberia (126), Croatia (123), and Mexico (120).

Those  at the lower end are: Austria (39), Greece (40), Liechtenstein (42), Jordan (52), Belgium (56), Lithuania (59, Sweden (59) Albania (59), Italy (60), Uzbekistan (61), the Dominican Republic (61) and Poland (62).

Among other scores, the United States was rated 89, Nigeria’s new law scored 90, and South Africa got 112.

The ratings authors said that scores could continue to change, noting that not all have been completely reviewed by country experts.

Observations by Authors

Some of the key results, according to the authors are:

–       More recent laws protect the right to know more strongly; of the 20 countries with scores above 100, 11 adopted their RTI laws since 2005, and 7 since 2000 – these laws tend to have much stronger oversight, enforcement and promotion.

–        Of the 20 countries with scores above 100, 7 are in East and Central Europe, 5 in Asia, 4 in the Americas, 3 in Africa and only one is in Western Europe;

–       Europe overall accounts for 15 of the bottom 20, primarily the older European laws which are more limited in scope and have weaker appeals mechanisms;

The Rating System

“This rating tool enables us to pinpoint areas of weakness in the legal framework for RTI, and to direct future advocacy at resolving these,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy.

The RTI Rating has seven main categories: Right of Access, Scope; Requesting Procedures; Exceptions and Refusals; Appeals; Sanctions and Protections; and Promotional Measures.

The rating system does not evaluate implementation of the laws.

The announcement observes:

The score for the legal framework did not always accord with overall levels of transparency in a country in practice. Some national experts who reviewed the AIE and CLD country assessments noted that is sometimes a gap between the quality of the law and the practice. In some northern European countries, the older legal frameworks do not fully reflect the culture of transparency in practice, whereas in countries like Azerbaijan, Nepal and Ethiopia, strong laws on paper do not necessarily reflect a fully open society; the strong laws in El Salvador and Liberia were adopted too recently to assess the practice.

“Testing of levels of transparency in practice is essential to have a full picture,” commented Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe. “Adopting a law is only a first step to transparency; without accurate measures of access to information in practice, governments can participate in ‘transparency washing’ and claim greater respect for this fundamental human right than is in fact the case.”

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