Mendel Paper Suggests Ways to Improve Implementation

5 February 2015

Ideas for improving the implementation of right to information laws are discussed in a new “working paper,” by Toby Mendel, Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy.

The 30-page “Designing Right to Information Laws for Effective Implementation,” was the subject of a webinar sponsored by the World Bank Feb. 5.

Some of the suggestions are aimed at “reducing administrative discretion.” Mendel writes that “discretion can lead to differential application by different public authorities, undermining public confidence and generating unmet expectations, and it can also provide opportunities for abuse of that discretion to prevent disclosure of information.”

“Discretion can also impose a burden on officials,” he says, “as they struggle to define what is needed in any given situation.” Examples of potential reforms include:

  • clear definitions of exceptions, not limiting the right to citizens (so that officials do not need to verify this),
  • providing a list of non-exclusive examples of what sorts of public interests might override exceptions and
  • not qualifying the definition of information in ways that would require officials to consider whether the qualification has been met.

Other recommendations are aimed at improving the institutions that administer RTI laws. “Many of these recommendations relate to the structure, power and roles of the independent administrative oversight body, as well as of the nodal body and the information officer function.”

Several sugestions concern the way implementation systems are designed. “These include systems for annual reporting, records management, training and proactive disclosure,” according to the paper.

“Separate from institutional design, but closely related, are recommendations that seek to ensure that implementation of the RTI law is integrated well with other, pre-existing systems.” Mendel wrote. “This covers, among other things, the way in which the RTI rules and systems are integrated into bureaucratic planning and regulatory systems, including in relation to sanctions, as well as the relationship with secrecy provisions in other laws.”

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