FOI Notes: Vanuatu, Balkans, Tunisia, OGP, Publications, Commentary, US, Ghana, UK, India, Uruguay, Philippines, Isle of Man

9 February 2017

Vanuatu: The RTI Act became law Feb. 6 after it was published in the official Gazette. “Within six months from the commencement of this legislation, the Minister responsible is required to specify the Government agencies that this Act applies to,” according to an article.

Balkans: The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) publishes a special feature about Balkan region access laws. See an interview (in English) with Serbian commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, Rodoljub Sabic. Also, interviews with four journalists in countries about their experiences with access laws: Sonja Merljak, reporter with the Slovenian daily ’Delo’; Rudina Hoxha, Editor, FOLLOW BUSINESS ALBANIA; Barbara Matejcic, freelance journalist, Croatia; and Milorad Ivanovic, Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek Serbia

Serbia: Simon Lenormand in The Balkan Courrier writes (in French) that in theory Serbia has one of the best FOI laws in the world but that the government still padlocks records.

Tunisia: Article 19 says the president’s circular regulating the operation of information and communications units governing the work of information cells and communications threatens freedom of expression and the right of access to information. “This circular represents a threat to freedom of expression and information in Tunisia and may impede the work of journalists and limit citizens’ free access to information on the management of public entities,” said Salua Ghazouani, Director of Article 19 in Tunisia.

OGP: Dissemination of information is among the topics covered in the new Participation and Co-creation Standards. Also see a look ahead blog post by OGP CEO Sanjay Pradhan that addresses the OGP Strategic Refresh. The minutes of the OGP Civil Society Steering Committee meeting in January are posted.

Publication: Read a sample of chapter 1 from new book by British academic Ben Worthy, “The politics of freedom of information” subtitled, “How and why governments pass laws that threaten their power.”

Why do governments pass freedom of information laws? The symbolic power and force surrounding FOI makes it appealing as an electoral promise but hard to disengage from once in power. However, behind closed doors compromises and manoeuvres ensure that bold policies are seriously weakened before they reach the statute book. This book examines how Tony Blair’s government proposed a radical FOI law only to back down in fear of what it would do. But FOI survived, in part due to the government’s reluctance to be seen to reject a law that spoke of ‘freedom’, ‘information’ and ‘rights’. After comparing the British experience with the difficult development of FOI in Australia, India and the United States – and the rather different cases of Ireland and New Zealand – the book concludes by looking at how the disruptive, dynamic and democratic effects of FOI laws continue to cause controversy once in operation.

Ghana: Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia says he wishes the RTI bill passed within the first 100 days of the Akufo-Addo government, according to GhanaWeb.

Commentary: Nathan Heller, director of Results for Development, writes about two significant blind spots that are just now being exposed” for the open government movement.

The first has been the belief that open government is inherently and normatively “good.” The second has been the belief that “the people” are reliably interested in public goods that reflect a progressive, liberal worldview. Both biases help to explain why the open government community has been so whipsawed by ongoing events.

United Kingdom: The Institute for Government (IfG) think tank analyzed government transparency data from 2010 to 2016 before ranking departmentsThe Department for Education ranks bottom of the class for punctuality in responding on time to information requests, Schools Week reports.

United States: Congress votes 52-47 to repeal a rule requiring companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp to publicly state taxes and other fees paid to foreign governments like Russia. See Reuters summary and Oxfam America description.

India: Public Information Officers in the state of Telangana “are seemed to least bothered about Right to Information (RTI) Act. Besides creating hurdles to furnish information under RTI Act, PIOs are also not paying penalty imposed on them as punishment for delaying information.” This according to data summarized by Telangana Today.

United States: The transfer of party and president presents an opportunity for activists to hold Republicans accountable to the same government transparency standards some GOP lawmakers sought during the Obama administration, Republican Rep. Darrel Issa said, according to FedScoop.

United States: An online database about animal abuse in research labs, puppy mills, zoos, etc. was removed from the United States Department of Agriculture website, reportedly because of privacy concerns, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Open Artificial Intelligence: More from Alan Winfield at Robohub on the role of transparency in the context of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems.

Uruguay: Uruguay Leads Its Neighbors in Open Government, according to Daniel Carranza, co-founder of DATA Uruguay and consultant in OpenGov and eGov.

Philippines: Joy Aceron, who directs G-Watch, and Francis Isaac, an independent researcher, write about a recent research report – Going Vertical – that “shines the spotlight on seven social accountability initiatives in the Philippines.”

Isle of Man: A third of FOI requests have been turned down in full or in part, according to an IOM Today article.

Commentary: A summary and appreciation of the World Bank’s 2017 World Development Report (WDR), Governance and the Law, and the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) Economic Development Strategy, written by David Booth of Overseas Development Institute (ODI), “UK’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.”

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