FOI Notes: UK, Canada, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, US, Open Data, MENA, Switzerland, and More

21 June 2017

United Kingdom: “Some major government departments have a record of frequent and persistent delays and unhelpfulness in their handling of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests,” according to a BBC article by Martin Rosenbaum. The Cabinet Office and the Home Office have the worst records.

Canada: Proposed FOI amendments meet a rocky reception. The Star reports that the information commissioner “would have the power to order release of government records under newly tabled legislation.” The article continues, however, “But the Liberal bill unveiled Monday doesn’t close loopholes that often keep files locked away and it backpedals on a campaign promise to fully apply the Access to Information Act to ministerial offices.” Vice news says the new bill “fails to follow through on the promises made by the Trudeau government over the last two years. “ The story continues, “It will do little to expand the reach of the act, improve timelines, or limit wildly-used exemptions that frustrate the disclosure of information.” An opposition leader brands the bill a “con job,” The Huffington Post said.

Sri Lanka: President Abdul Hamid asks the Information Commission to embark on a campaign for creating mass awareness of the new RTI law, according to an article in the Daily Sun. In other developments, The Daily Mirror writes. “It is encouraging to see that despite being severely cash-strapped due to the absence of an independent allocation in the 2017 National Budget, the RTI Commission of Sri Lanka has begun hearing appeals and concluded several hearings…” The editorial says further, “This is no doubt due to the perseverance of Commission members despite the Commission operating out of temporary premises and with skeletal staff.” See Commission statement on appeals. The trilingual website of the RTI Commission website went live. http://www.rticommission.lk/.

Bahamas: Civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Bahamas are looking to amend the recently enacted Freedom of Information Act, urging the new government to strengthen it. The CSO coalition has made four main suggestions for improvements according to Tribune242 (June 16 article and June 7 article.) The law was partially enacted by the previous administration (Tribune242 April 19 article.) The groups are seeking a less political process to select an information commissioner, a shorter wait time for responses, coverage of entities substantially financed by the government and more access to Cabinet deliberative documents.

Philippines: A comprehensive update on FOI legislation and the FOI executive order from Rappler.

MENA: FOI activists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen agree to create a regional network of right to information activists. The statement is available in Arabic and English.

FOI Quote: “People think transparency is the cherry on top of a pie of good state management, but it’s false. Transparency is the fundamental basis upon which political stability is constructed over time. Without information, leaders are indisputable and thus separate from their base of control, which is the people.” A statement by Alfonso Grimaldo, a co-creator of El Tabulario – a project, launched at the end of May, which collects, analyzes and disseminates public data with the aim of promoting transparency in the country. The quote appeared in an article in the Knight Journalism in the Americas blog. (Added to FreedomInfo.org FOI Quotes archive.)

Norway: Summary article about recent critical reports on FOIA, written by Siri Gedde-Dahl, Head of the Press Freedom Committee and Elin Floberghagen, General Secretary of the Norwegian Press Association. (In Norwegian, but translates pretty well in Google Translate.)

OGP: The materials for the OGP Steering Committee meeting in Washington DC June 27-28. Among other topics: a proposal that a state may not join if the ruling party has more than 75% of the parliamentary seats, if there was not a democratic election, and/or if the If the current Head of Government has been in office for more than twelve years.

OGP: Paul Maassen, the OGP civil society coordinator, writes about lessons and challenges after five years with the OGP.

Given the way our movement has been growing, even in these challenging times – with strong reformers popping up in both government and civil society – I believe we have every reason to be optimistic, and have full confidence in our collective ability to raise the bar for OGP to live up to its promise.

Open Data: Announcing the Data Collaboratives Research Network: Understanding how public value can be generated from private data.

United States: The Trump administration sides with Republicans in the House of Representatives who are seeking to end public access to a database that collects consumer complaints about financial companies, tracks responses, and records whether consumers end up satisfied, reports Bloomberg.

United States: Classified US documents published by WikiLeaks had very limited effect and did not seriously harm US interest, according to a 107-page report, prepared by a Department of Defense task force and obtained by Buzzfeed News.

Nigeria: A civil watchdog group called the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) collects information on contracts and performance using FOI requests. “It is a carrot and stick approach, using a combination of litigation and positive publicity for more open institutions,” according to an Open Contracting article on the effort to fight corruption. The group ranks agencies on the level of access to procurement related information.

Switzerland: Swiss law, both federal and cantonal, is not fully In accordance with the requirements of a decision by the European Court of Human Rights which recognizes that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights Now establishes the right to require the atate to provide Information in its possession subject to different conditions, according to an article by Alexandre Flückiger and Valérie Junod, “La reconnaissance d’un droit d’accès aux informations détenues par l’Etat fondée sur l’article 10 CEDH.” (Yup, in French.)

Open Data: There are now 100 open data policies from American cities in our database at opendatapolicies.org.

IFTI Watch: “Open Access Policy In International Organisations,” an article by Elise De Geyter for Intellectual Property Watch. It’s a report on a June 12 workshop on International Organizations and Open Access held during the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2017.

India: Law student Parag Agrawal publishes Layman’s Legal Guide of Right to Information. This book opens with the quote: “Everyone has a Right to Ask, Everyone has a Question, Sometimes they Ask, Sometimes they Fight to Ask.”

Open Fisheries: The 2nd International Conference of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative, adopted the first FiTI Standard.

IFTI Watch: MSI Integrity, the Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and Miller & Chevalier launch the MSI Database, a searchable online resource for information about multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs). Available at www.msi-database.org, the website catalogues information about the scope, governance, and operations of transnational standard-setting MSIs.

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