FOI Notes: Afghanistan, Mexico, OGP, India, Brazil, Zambia, Pakistan, Malaysia, US, EU, More

24 May 2017

Afghanistan: The Oversight Commission on Access to Information says a number of government institutions are not implementing the Access to Information Act, including the administrative office of the president, the Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC), Lower House of Parliament and the Independent Administrative Reforms and Civil Service Commission. “If government creates the commission only to mislead the public and only claims that we have access to information and talks about it in meetings, then it is not acceptable for us,” said OCAI chief Sayed Ekram Afzali, according to an article in Tolo News. “We should remove the world ‘information’ from this institution (MoIC) and instead name it the ministry of prevention of information,” he said.

Mexico/OGP: Civil society organizations drop out of participation in the Open Government Partnership process, citing “the lack of co-creation and dialogue conditions.” They wrote: “In Mexico there are no conditions for a free and safe participation of civil society that enables the Open Government Partnership Agenda to move forward.” Ilaso, they said, “The espionage directed to human rights advocates and the sudden rise of threats to freedom of expression increase mistrust and prevent a peer dialogue with the government. See letter in English and Spanish. A subsequent OGP statement says in part, “We sincerely hope that the Mexican government and civil society will be able to re-establish a working relationship in the future built on trust, transparency and accountability.”

India: “In a major bid to clear pending cases, the Central Information Commission (CIC) is working to clear all appeals filed in 2015 by September 2017 and those filed in 2016 by the end of 2017,” reports Gauray Vivek Bhatnagar in Wire, who also wrote about a recent seminar on the RTI law in an article entitled, “Burdened by Infrastructural Deficiencies the RTI Act Is Becoming Ineffective.”

India: The proposed RTI rules are analyzed by Shailesh Gandhi, an RTI activist and the former Central Information Commissioner, and Dwip Rachchh, an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation Mumbai.

With the glaring exception of rule 12 these draft rules appear to be a vast improvement over the previous rules and do not seem to dilute the law and its efficacy in any manner. It is a well-balanced set of rules that accomplishes the objectives of the act and ensure speedy and timely redressal of complaints and appeals.

On Rule 12, they write:

Rule 12 says that an appellant has the option to withdraw his appeal before the final hearing by giving a written or oral request. Moreover on the death of the appellant the proceeding pending before the commission will abate. The option of withdrawing appeals may incentivise blackmailers or those using RTI for unscrupulous means. This rule can also potentially put the life of RTI applicants at risk or at the very least make them susceptible to threats asking for withdrawal of their applications. Those familiar with RTI activism will attest to the dangers many activists have already faced in the course of their work. Such a rule will further incentivise unscrupulous elements to try and intimidate or even fatally harm RTI activists asking uncomfortable questions.

India: A study conducted by the Legal System Reforms Project, Azim Premji University, Bangalore, says the Indian judiciary “continues to be opaque and non-compliant” with the RTI Act, according to a report in LiveLaw.

Brazil: Civil servants who do not comply with the Law on Access to Information (LAI) in Brazil are not punished, according to a recent report from Article 19 Brazil, an NGO that defends freedom of expression and the right to information,” according to a Knight Center article. 

Zambia: The Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) issues a statement cautioning that proposed laws to control the use of information and communication technologies could impede access to information and urging consultations on the topic.

Pakistan: The Right of Access to Information Bill, 2017, recently presented in the Senate, “would prove highly restrictive and ineffective like the previous law, it seeks to repeal, say civil society groups working to promote citizens’ right of access to information,” according to an article and an editorial in The Nation and another by the Pakistan Press Foundation.

Pakistan: The Coalition on Right to Information, a consortium of 52 civil society groups, demands that the Punjab government provide the resources necessary to implement of the Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, according to an article in The News. “The Right of Access to Information Bill 2017 is structurally flawed like Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and it should only be enacted after bringing it into harmony with the standards of effective right to information legislation,” the coalition said in one of its demands.”

United Kingdom: A court orders disclosure of ministerial diaries, reports The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Malaysia: Contractors in the state of Penang will be asked to sign an agreement to make public the contracts signed with the state government, according to an article in the edgemarkets.com by Sangeetha Amarthalingam.

Participation: UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, addresses the topic participation in his final thematic report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Among his recommendations:“Encourage and facilitate innovation within civil society including by ensuring unimpeded access to and use of information and communication.”

IFTIWatch: The NGO Counter Balance reports on its activities, including its efforts to make the European Investment bank more transparent.

Mexico: Monitoring is necessary to assure the effective implementation of the FOILaw, according to an article by Adriana García Garcia, who summarizes recent changes in the law and evaluations of the law.

United States:”CIA’s release of ORIS database could change the way FOIA requests are made to the Agency,” reads the headline on a Muckrock article with the bylined M Best.

United States: Muckrock, an organization that helps make FOIA requests, introduces a predictive tool: “Predict Your FOIA Request Success. Does your FOIA have a shot? This model is trained on 9,000+ FOIA requests tracked by MuckRock.” The app is powered by data.world using data from MuckRock.

United States: The legislature in the state of Florida in the recent session, passed 17 exemptions to public records laws, the second highest amount of exemptions since 1995. The average is about 10 a year, according to a report by ABC News.

United States: Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, discussed FOI in the US with Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University, and David McCraw, legal counsel for The New York Time in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review.

European Union: Concerns about transparency in the EU administration accounted for the biggest proportion of the Ombudsman’s cases (29.6%) in 2016 according to the Annual Report 2016 available here.

Anti-Corruption/Open Contracting: The OGP Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) has developed recommendations on two anti-corruption approaches: beneficial ownership transparency and open contracting. See the Beneficial Ownership Transparency Brief and Open Contracting Brief .

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