Jordan Council Approves Modifications to FOI Law

29 October 2012

By Yahia Shukkeir

This article is reprinted with permission from the October edition of a newsletter on access to information in the Middle East published by the World Bank Institute.

In early September, the Jordan Council of Ministers approved a draft law modifying the 2007 Right to Information Act.

This draft law comes after a collective demand to facilitate access to information and allow non-Jordanians to access needed information, in accordance with signed agreements confirming this right.

The draft law also strengthens the representation of civil society in the Council of Information. To ensure more transparency, the law stipulates that implementation of the Right to Information Act will be reported to the Prime Minister, the House of Representatives, and the Senate.

Membership in the Council of Information has been revised to include the General Director of Press and Publications Department, the President of the Jordanian Lawyers Association and the President of the Jordanian Journalists Association.

The Council of Information membership includes the Minister of Culture (who is president of the Council), the Information Commissioner, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice, the Secretary General of the Ministry of the Interior, the Director General of General Statistics, the Director General of the National IT Center, the Director of Moral Guidance in the Armed forces, the Commissioner General for Human Rights, among others.

The draft law grants non-Jordanians the right to obtain the information they request if they have a legitimate interest or a legitimate reason. The condition of “legitimate reason and legitimate interest” is part of the current law, and it is worth noting that this condition has generated challenges for ATI implementation during the last five years.

The new draft law only targets the same government agencies that are currently subject to ATI. However, many stakeholders argue that the Right to Information law should be expanded to include private institutions financed by the government.

Additionally, the provisions of the draft law stipulate that the official in charge must provide or refuse an information request within 15 days. The draft law allows the requester to submit an appeal to the Council of Information within the next 15 days (previously 30 days) if the request is denied. The Council must then issue a decision on an appeal within 15 days. If denied, the requester has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court within 60 days of the Council’s decision.

These modifications, while they constitute a step in the right direction, are not sufficient to bring the law to international standards. Further reforms are needed to ensure the Right to Information.

An important limitation to the effectiveness of the law is that the Right to Information Act does not supersede any other existing legislation currently in force. The Protection of State Secrets and Documents Provisional Law number 50 of 1971, still in force, is the biggest obstacle to ensuring the legal Right to Information.

Amending the law to conform to international standards should be a national objective for Jordan. This will enable ordinary citizens to access information so they can make better decisions and take part not only in elections but also in decision-making more broadly, including fighting corruption, determining access  to water and electricity, and other critical areas.

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