Vietnam Assembly Passes Access to Information Law

6 April 2016

The Vietnamese National Assembly on April 6 approved an access to information law, according to an April 6 VNExpress article by Hoang Thuy, Vo Hai and Vuong Anh.

The law was backed by 437 of the 448 deputies who cast their votes. Now that the National Assembly has adopted it, the government and Ministry of Justice make some revisions and then it goes to the president for signature, according to persons following the process, but few significant changes are expected.

Once signed, the law will come into effect on July 1, 2018, according to the newspaper. It reported:

According to the law, all citizens are equal and there will be no discrimination in the right to access information. The information provided must be accurate and complete. The provision of information must be timely, transparent, accurate and convenient for citizens, while following the process and procedures prescribed by the law.

All information released must have been previously declassified by the government.

The Access to Information Law also specifies information that citizens cannot access, including state secrets, information with important content in politics, national defense and security, foreign affairs, economy, science, technology and other areas regulated by the law.

Citizens will not be given access to information if it could harm national defense and security, international relations, public order, social morality, public health, or the lives and property of others. They are also not allowed to access information containing business secrets and details of internal meetings and documents.

The law encourages state agencies to provide information they have obtained where possible.

The draft law went before the Standing Committee in August 2015 and was further examined by the Assembly’s Law Committee. The committee focused on “the scope of the legislation, defining what is deemed confidential information, who is responsible for providing the information and who is eligible to make a request,” according to the article.

During the debate, “some delegates expressed concern over making available `sensitive’ information that could be used to cause social instability,” according to the article, but other delegates said the law would be a step forward in transparency and social development.

Deputy Chairman of the NA Huynh Ngoc Son was quoted as saying that there are many issues that need to be publicized that have so far remained confidential. “For example, the health of state officials traveling overseas should not be considered confidential. Rumors will start if this information is not publicized which may stir social instability,” Son said.

“If an invitation to a meeting is considered confidential, what exactly can we publicize?” Chairman of the NA’s Law Committee Phan Trung Ly said. “There must be a list of information that cannot be made public outlined in the law.”

The Centre for Law and Democracy, a Canadian-based nongovernmental organization, rated the draft law in November, giving it 59 points out of a possible 150 on the RTI Rating scale.

Once the bill is signed, Vietnam will be the 109th country with a FOI regime. (See list here.)

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