The Assembly of people’s representatives has overwhelmingly adopted the freedom of information law with a vote of 123-0 despite of no abstention.
However, the bill has undergone several amendments before its passage and these include:
• Bodies covered.
Under Article 3, the bodies have been expanded to include all bodies in Tunisia: Internal or external controlled by the government.
This specifically now includes presidency, PM office, judiciary, parliament, local and regional, as well as subsidiary bodies under all. NGOs being publicly funded are also mentioned.
• Proactive publication.
This has been slightly expanded to cover more policies and programmes, procurement (relating to budget in particular). However, the release of statistics related information is subject to statistics law. For any Information requested twice, there will be publication on official web site.
There is no limitation on who the requesters are. Requesters are natural and legal with no geographic limitations. The requirement of an ID number while requesting for information has been erased and one does not need to state the purpose or justify it while requesting for information.
• Responses time lengthened.
There is no provision of getting a response as soon as possible. It only does not exceed 20 days now.
In case the information request filed is insufficient, an official can take 15 days to inform the requester moving it from 10.
Urgent requests will however get response with in 48h and not 2 working days.
Information is free but fees is limited to copy and postage.
It includes a substantial harm test, a public interest test and a fairly limited set of exemptions:
Article 24: The relevant body shall not refuse access to information unless such access could damage the public security or the national defense or International related relations or Rights of others in protecting their private life and personal data and their intellectual property rights.
The fields listed are not considered as an absolute exceptions to the right to information and shall be subject to a prejudice test. The damage shall be substantial and encompass current and future damage. They shall be submitted to the evaluation of the general public interest before providing or refusing the access for each request and to take into account proportionality between the interests to be protected and the purpose of the request.
In case of refusal, the requester shall be informed by motivated response, the effect of the refusal shall ends with the demise of the effect of rejection reasons set out in the response to the demand of information.
Note that many of the common exemptions like economic and internal decision making are not included as justifiable exemptions. Presumably much of usual law enforcement exemptions would fall under public security but unclear on privileged documents.
• Information Authority.
The process for appointment and length of experience has been reduced.
A member from National Council of Statistics has been approved while judge from Court of Accounts dropped.
The Parliament committee has been given a right to propose top 3 candidates for each slot.
On the other hand, youth and women candidates given priority if equally qualified (previously age was priority) one of vice presidents has also been dropped.
• Reuse of public information. Section dropped. Now free reuse of all public information released under law.
• Sanctions. Fines have been increased from 500 dinars ($US247) to range of 500 to 5000 dinars. Former article 59 which protected officials who acted in good faith from sanctions was removed. This cuts both ways with release perhaps impacted but no criminal penalties for that. Penalties for unlawful destruction referred to Penal Code 163 for now.
• Implementation. Now requires training for officials.
Commenting about the adoption of the law, the president of ARP, Mohamed Ennaceur said:
. “It was a difficult birth of a historical law and an important step taken by Parliament towards the consecration of the principles of the Constitution,” in a directinfo article.
Salwa Ghazouani, Director of Article 19 Tunisia suggested the need for good implementation of the new law noting that with the adoption of the new Organic Law, Tunisia will be to the forefront of Arab countries to guarantee this right.