Study Probes Commitments on FOI by OGP Members

24 March 2014

About half of the countries in the Open Government Partnership made commitment to pass a freedom of information law or to improve an existing one, according to a new study authored by Mexico’s Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI).

The researchers found that of the 55 countries studied, 27 made FOI-related commitments, 47 percent. (There are now 63 OGP members). Of the 27 countries making FOI-related pledges, four do not have a FOI law.

The study was prepared to help guide the work of the OGP Access to Information Working Group (ATI WG), one of five topical interest groups formed late last year.

The FOI-related commitments are differentiated from promises to pro-actively release more information and data. Four broad categories are identified: developing or strengthening a solid legal ATI framework, ensuring the correct enforcement of FOIA, training public officials, and developing or strengthening oversight bodies.

The report includes a sampling of evaluations made of the commitments. All of the assessments are included in a spreadsheet that will be posted in the near future when the working group websites are finished. FreedomInfo.org was provided a copy of the report.

One of the evaluative entries, concerning Azerbaijan, states:

Commitment: “Improvement of the structure of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) of Azerbaijan in line with its role of overseeing the implementation of the Access to Information Act, specialized training of the relevant employees.

Implementation: Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) – 2013-2014”

The commitment only makes reference to the aim of strengthening the oversight body. It could be enhanced by providing more information on the actions to be taken for improving such body, and by defining indicators to measure progress. Regarding the responsible for implementation, possible confusion arising from seeing that the body in charge is the same upon which actions will be implemented could be remedied if there is a clear definition of the actions to be performed.

The reports on the promises made by the 27 countries are intended to facilitate looking for “areas of opportunity in the commitments in order to improve them.” One conclusion states that “there is room for improvement in helping governments adopt commitments that are specific, measurable and time-bound.”

The study does not include information on follow-through progress from the recently issued reports by independent reviewers.

Commenting broadly, the report discusses the various flavors of transparency and observes that “a majority of countries decided to adopt commitments regarding the proactive part of the right to access to information.”

The report says, “A new analysis could be conducted from this study in order to review drafts of FOIA or those in force, and compare them to the commitments proposed to see to what extent they are complying with standards that represent the expectations of society.” This is one of several suggestions for further research.

The report confirms previous research issued in July 2012 by the Centre for Law and Democracy, a Canadian-based nongovernmental organization. (See previous FreedomInfo.org.) CLD found that 13 of the 44 action plans studied include a pledge to engage in serious RTI law reform, “The remaining 31 either do not mention RTI or propose only minor improvements,” according to a report.

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