U.S. Boosts FOI as Criteria for Receiving Foreign Aid

4 May 2012

The United States has revised an indicator used to decide which countries qualify for foreign aid, somewhat elevating the importance of freedom of information and unfettered internet access.

The changes were made last year by the Millenium Challenge Corporation, which uses a multi-faceted scorecard system to determine which under-developed countries qualify for development assistance.

Not having a FOI law, or not being trying to pass one, will lower overall eligibiity scores, although only by a tiny amount, because many other factors are involved. The addition of a “freedom of information” score was recently blogged about by Alicia Phillips Mandaville, Director, Development Policy, who also discussed them with FreedomInfo.org

There are 25 “MCC compact countries” and  81 “candidate” countries for 2012, according to a recent report.  Eligibility depends on scores in numerous categories designed to determine if they “demonstrate a clear commitment to good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens.”  Zambia is about to join and Malawi recently was kicked out.

“To date, MCC’s Board of Directors has approved more than $9 billion in compact investments in 25 countries that were identified using a public, data driven selection system. We like data—and we like openness,” wrote Mandaville.

Modifications Made for 2012

The new “freedom of information indicator” takes as its baseline Freedom House’s assessment of freedom of the press. This score is enhanced if a country has a FOI law and lowered if it engages is internet filtering.

The presence or absence of a FOI law has limited, but appropriate weight in the scoring, Mandaville said, indicating that MCC consulted with several international FOI organizations before setting  the level. The strength of the law and its effectiveness are not rated, but countries with very poor laws don’t generally score well on other elements of the indicator, she said.

The Freedom House index runs from 1-100, with a low score being good.

The average score on the Freedom House scale is 60.7 (by FreedomInfo.org calculation) and the application of FOI and Internet filtering scores makes overall average somewhat better, 56.

“A country’s score is improved by 2 points if they have a Freedom of Information law in process and by 4 points if they have Freedom of Information laws or regulations already enacted,” according to the MCC explanation.

Previously FOI was a much smaller component in the MCC equation, being part of the Freedom House score on “political rights and civil liberties.”

The scoring appears fairly liberal. For example, two points – a bill in process – were awarded to Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Vietnam. However, Mongolia only got two points, despite having passed a law.

“A country’s score is penalized 2 points for selective filtering of either political content or internet tools; 3 points for substantial filtering of either category; or 4 points for pervasive filtering of either category. This means a country that pervasively filters both political content and internet tools would receive a penalty of 8 points.”

The freedom of information benchmark is one of 20 tests for eligibility. A country must pass 10 to qualify. In addition, countries must score above the median on a control of corruption standard and jump a  “democratic rights” hurdle: based on Freedom House’s measure for civil rights and political rights (which includes a FOI component).

The information of FOI comes from Fringe Special—Overview of All FOIA Laws and the data on internet filtering comes from  Open Net Initiative’s Global Internet Filtering Map.

Comments Invited

Making the measurements more sophisticated in the future is anticipated, Mandaville said.

In her blog she invited comment:

 We welcome critique and analysis of what practical steps would improve the index. For more information on the methodologies used to assess freedom of the press, Internet freedom and freedom of information laws, please see the Freedom of Information section of our Guide to the Indicators and let us know what you think. 140 or fewer characters with the #MCCFOI hashtag would be nice. Lengthier, complex thoughts would be even better.

Country scorecards here: http://www.mcc.gov/pages/selection/scorecards. The data is in the right hand column.

The FOI break down is on tab 3 of the spread sheet (at the bottom, its labeled “FOI Data with ONI corrections”).

Key reports on methodology/ process: http://www.mcc.gov/pages/selection

 (column down the right hand side).

The following tables excerpts the MCC data to show only the FOI-related scores and the total score:

Data as of November 8, 2011

 

 

Low Income Countries for Fiscal Year 2012

Freedom of Information Act

MCC Freedom of Information Score

Afghanistan

2

73

Bangladesh

4

50

Benin

0

33

Bolivia

2

44

Burkina Faso

2

39

Burma

0

101

Burundi

0

74

Cambodia

2

61

Cameroon

2

65

Central African Republic

0

61

Chad

0

75

Comoros

0

48

Congo, Dem. Rep.

2

79

Cote d’Ivoire

0

68

Djibouti

0

73

Eritrea

0

94

Ethiopia

4

79

Gambia

0

81

Ghana

2

24

Guinea

4

55

Guinea-Bissau

0

57

Haiti

0

49

Honduras

4

57

India

4

35

Kenya

2

52

Korea, Dem. Rep.

0

97

Kyrgyz Republic

4

68

Lao PDR

0

85

Lesotho

2

46

Liberia

4

55

Madagascar

0

64

Malawi

2

53

Mali

2

22

Mauritania

0

55

Moldova

4

53

Mongolia

2

37

Mozambique

2

42

Nepal

4

55

Nicaragua

4

43

Niger

4

55

Nigeria

4

48

Pakistan

4

61

Papua New Guinea

2

23

Rwanda

2

82

Sao Tome and Principe

0

29

Senegal

2

52

Sierra Leone

2

51

Solomon Islands

2

27

Somalia

0

84

Sudan

2

81

Tajikistan

4

76

Tanzania

2

46

Timor-Leste

0

35

Togo

0

73

Uganda

4

50

Uzbekistan

4

96

Vietnam

2

88

Yemen, Rep.

2

88

Zambia

0

61

Zimbabwe

4

77

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