Togo Approves FOI Law; 108th Internationally

6 April 2016

The Togo National Assembly on March 10 approved a freedom of information law, according to media reports.

Minister of Communication Guy Madjé Lorenzo was quoted as saying that the new law seeks to strengthen the role of media in the fight against corruption and fraud. See an Ecofin article and another on Togosite (both in French).

See the text of the law as passed (in French). One media report says the law was promulgated March 30, 2016.

The new law guarantees every natural or legal person, the right of access to information. Requests must be accompanied by a photocopy of an identity document valid at the agency.

It provides a 15-day processing time for requests from researchers and progressional journalists while allowing replies in 30 days for requests from others. Access is free unless there are costs for transcription, reproduction or transmission of the document. Also, one article says that the use of information and public documents may, where appropriate, lead to the payment of fees and the issuance of a license. Agency license conditions conditions can imposed only on grounds of public interest and may not have the purpose or effect of restricting competition.

The law requires the government to explain denials and sets out a variety of exemptions, including for personal information without consent. Exemptions also cover disclosures that would potentially damage to international relations, hamper negotiations in progress with another public body, reveal a trading strategy, or release an industrial secret that belongs to a public body.

Article 29, according to Google Translate, says:

Every public body must refuse to confirm the existence or communicating information whose publication would effectively be a loan, a loan project, a transaction or proposed transaction relating to goods, services or works.
It is the same with a pricing scheme, a tax project of a tax or fee or modification of a tax or a fee when such disclosure may:
– Provide an unfair advantage to a person or cause him harm;
– Prejudice the economic interests of the public body or community;
– Show the steps relating to the determination of currency or exchange rates, the interest rates or taxes.

Article 31 would prohibit the release information if its publication could substantially reduce its competitiveness or reveal a loan project, investment, debt management or fund management or a borrowing strategy , investment, debt management or fund management  (again a Google translation.) Subsequent articles protect the release of information that might obstruct contract negotiations.

Additional exemptions cover criminal investigations, judicial proceedings, state security, public safety, fiscal policy and draft laws and regulations, among other things.

Appeal procedures are provided to the ombudsman and the courts. Sanctions are established for public officials who violate the right of access to information and public documentation.

Official information has been difficult to obtain, particularly for private media outlets, according to the Ecofin article. Journalists in Togo have traditionally operated in fear of violent attacks and harassment for their reporting, and some engaging in self-censorship, the article also says.

Passage was influenced by a 2014 recommendation of the States General of the press, according to the news articles.

In December of 2015, the US Millennium Challenge Corporation gave Togo a passing grade on its political indicator, making it eligible for MCC funding. The MCC said it expected Togo to continue to improve its grade, especially concerning corruption and democratic rights, according to a statement (in French).

Togo is the 108th country to pass a FOI law. (See list here.)

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