93 Countries Have FOI Regimes, Most Tallies Agree

19 October 2012

The number of countries with freedom of information laws or similar administrative regulations stands at 93, according to most experts.

The near unanimity on who makes a consensus list, and how many, represents something of a change since last year when estimates ranged from to 86 to 97 countries. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Informal consultation among three list makers, however, has contributed to coinciding tallies. Differences still exist for various reasons with two other comprehensive lists, but the range of estimates is narrower, from 93 to 99.

There were four major reasons for the differences now and in the past:

-          what counts as a law?

-           is the law in effect?

-          what’s a country?

-          should ineffective laws be counted?

One recent change in thinking that affected several counts was acceptance by several list makers that Argentina is a qualifying country. Although Argentina does not have a FOI law, it has the Access to Public Information Regulation, a 2003 presidential edict. Three other countries have presidential edicts or regulations considered sufficiently analogous to laws – China, Niger and Tunisia – most compilers have determined.

Another source of the variation in the past was whether to count countries whose laws were passed, but were not yet in effect. Most census takers still hold by that standard, leaving Guyana off the list. A law was passed in September of 2011 in Guyana, but is not yet put in operation. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) El Salvador, Malta and Mongolia, which some tallies excluded last year, now have active laws.

Perhaps the biggest remaining tussle is whether to include places such as Hong Kong and Scotland on the list. No, say most list authors, but not everyone agrees.

Four of the five main counters include laws even if they are ineffective.

Consensus on Same 93

The bottom line is that three list makers now agree on the same 93 countries.

Roger Vleugels, a Dutch freedom of information lecturer and legal advisor, recently put out his 2012 figures, his seventh annual census – 26 pages, including lists of subnational laws.

This year, besides including Argentina, he added Brazil, El Salvador, Malta, Mongolia and Yemen.

An identical bottom line is used in the ratings of national laws done by the Centre for Democracy and Law and Access Info. They include 93 countries, or will once an oversight is corrected and Liechtenstein is restored. (See FreedomInfo.org article.)

The authors of the Global Right to Information Rating have assessed a few new countries since the first iteration of the ratings last September (Argentina, Brazil, Malta and Yemen). (See previous FreedomInfo.org article.) Out of 150 points on its scale, the rated countries legal regimes rank from a high of 135 points to a low of 39 points.

Also concurring with 93 is Right2Info, a website whose list of countries with national/federal laws or actionable decrees was re-issued in September 2012.

Right2Info also notes that there are “3 additional countries with actionable constitutional provisions” — Costa Rica, Kenya and the Philippines.

The entry is intended to recognize that these countries have constitutions guaranteeing a right to information.  “Actionable” means “judicially enforceable,” according to Right2info.

The three countries have not supplemented the constitutional right with implementing laws or administrative procedures. As a result other reviewers, even if they agree the constitutional clauses are “actionable,” don’t consider them effective and so exclude them.

The Right2Info list uses symbols to note laws “used primarily to restrict ATI and freedom of expression, and where there is “actionable ATI regulation rather than a law.”

A Different 93

Another tally with 93 as the bottom line has been prepared by the American University Law School’s Collaboration on Government Secrecy (CGS) for several years and was updated on Right to Know Day Sept. 28.

But the names are slightly different.

CGS does not include Angola and Ethiopia, countries which make other lists, due to inadequate implementation. Last year CGS excluded Uganda for that reason, but this year Uganda is back on the list based on new implementation activity. Kyrgystan and Niger are not on the CGS list.

CGS includes Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Jersey and Scotland (not considered countries by the other list makers). It includes Guyana.

Banisar Counts 99

David Banisar, the senior legal officer for Article 19, has been tracking international laws for years. In early October he posted his updated map.

He counts 92 countries and jurisdictions with RTI laws and seven more countries and jurisdictions with RTI regulations. That’s 99.

He includes Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. He said he doesn’t consider them countries or states, but suggested a phrase such as “self governing jurisdictions” for those that have a level of independence but are not fully recognized members of the United Nations.

Banisar includes Spain, a choice with which all others disagree. Banisar also credits Bolivia as having a regulation. He counts Guyana.

Another map of laws and regulations was launched recently for Right to Know Day by Article 19, also with no accompanying list, but the names of the countries appear for a hovering cursor. The names appear to conform to Banisar’s list.

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