Access to information is one of the keys to democracy. Allowing people to seek and receive public documents serves as a critical tool for fighting corruption, enabling citizens to more fully participate in public life, making governments more efficient, encouraging investment, and helping persons exercise their fundamental human rights.
Citizens should care because information allows them to participate in priority setting and decision-making, to hold their government accountable, and to assure equal treatment and equal justice. Information belongs to the people; governments simply hold information in their name. Public documents include anything from a birth certificate to a contract for road construction to studies that underpin public policy.
Many governments are confronted with the urgent need to improve their economy, reform their constitution, strengthen institutions, modernize the public administration, fight corruption, and address civil unrest. For these governments, access to information can be used to achieve all of these objectives. With access to information law, governments must establish record keeping and archiving systems, which serves to make them more efficient, reduce discretionarily and allow them to make better decisions based on factual information. Moreover, greater transparency can help re-establish trust between government and its citizens.
Changing a culture of secrecy to one of openness is a difficult task that can take generations. However, a first step is to raise the community’s awareness of their right to information. Developing access to information culture can be divided into three phases: the passage of the law, its implementation, and its enforcement. Our ATI interventions include activities in all three phases. Passing the law is the easiest part. The most difficult part, for governments, is the implementation, and enforcement is arguably the most important.
AFIC encourages citizens to demand information and use it to hold leaders accountable; key in improving the delivery of services.