Report Details Access Scene in Four Middle East Nations

10 August 2012

A new report provides extensive detail on the access to information situation in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, concluding that in all four “a culture of secrecy prevails over that of openness,” and advocating incremental reforms.

The report, “Access to Information in the Middle East and North African Region: An overview of recent development in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia” is available in English and Arabic.

It was prepared by Saad Almadhoun, a human right officer at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and an adjunct professor at the University of Palestine. The project was supported by the World Bank in collaboration with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in the Arab World (ANSA AW).

Reporting that the culture and mindset of public officials prevents access to information, Almadhoun says change will require “a long-term process of legal and institution reform and shifts in underlying beliefs through appropriate incentives.”

He supports prioritizing the access to information (ATI) agenda, stating that “it is important for ATI campaigns to prioritize and advance access to information in areas that do not raise governments’ concerns (i.e. issues relating to national security and corruption).

“ATI campaigns can demand routine information on health, education, housing, development, and the environment,” he continues, “In these areas, ATR activists along with journalists should request information on service delivery an government programs.”

It is important to identify public officials who can be champions for openness, Almadhoun writes, also stressing factors including monitoring and evaluation, a reward system for agencies, training, public awareness raising, and litigation.  

Country-by-Country Comments

The 39-page report also makes suggestions concerning each of the four countries.

Activists in Jordan and Tunisia should advocate for reviewing other laws that hamper access to information, he states.

In Jordan, which has an access law, the Information “has suffered from serious shortcomings in overseeing the implementation process by public agencies.”

Jordan’s 2007 law “has limitations due to its vagueness, exceptions regime, and its relationship with the larger legal framework,” according to the report. “The Jordanian experience serves as an example about limited progress regarding ATI despite the passing of legislation.”

Talk of amending the law in 2022 has gone nowhere, the report says, noting that Jordan this year made a promise to improve access to information as part of its Open Government Partnership action plan.

It also finds that other laws seriously impinge on the access to information law.

Efforts to pass an access law in Lebanon since 2000 have not been successful, according to the report and a 2002 statute guaranteeing access to environmental information has not been implemented.

Civil society organizations “have not developed sustained strategies to demand the right to access information as a vehicle to strengthen their mission,” according to the report. The effort is focused through a national network formed in 2008, which has drafted a bill.

The section on Lebanon, and the sections on the other countries, examines other relevant statutes and government initiatives related to access.

Morocco in 2011 became the first Arab country to have a constitutional provision guaranteeing access to information, the report explains, and the new government has promised to draft an access law but no plan or project has been made public yet.

Regarding Tunisia, Almadhoun says support is needed for the implementation of the 2011 decree on public documents. Public awareness is “low,” he says, and the ATI campaign “is still in its early stages.”

The decree “falls short in a number of key areas,” according to the report. There are no sanctions or an institutional entity to implement it.

The report also describes regional developments on the topic.

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