We need access to information. No one can make informed decisions on issues that affect them without access to information
Through ATI, press freedom and freedom of association can grow. Governments can be held accountable, and corruption can be exposed. When the United Nations was established, all countries acknowledged the fundamental value of free information. It was inscribed at the heart of Article 19 in 1948, which states that:
everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice
Availability ATI is not an end in itself
The presence of an ATI act does not automatically lead to more transparency and open governance. There are general elements that need to be in place for ATI to work, such as:
- An enabling environment: Legal framework, laws that make access to public interest information difficult, must be reviewed and amended.
- Demand for information and public awareness: If no requests are made, the government will not invest human and financial resources to implement and use ATI law
- Institutional capacity– Public institution needs to know how to respond to ATI requests.
- Oversight: Need to monitor and make sure public systems are actually complying.
- Action plan: Concrete steps on what needs to be done when the law has been passed. This can be what needs to be done by whom and in which time frame and how achievements will be tracked
Role of CSOs
Much work needs to be done to make true access to information a reality for everyone around the world. Ideally, when information is requested, it should be provided in a timely and effective manner.
The Public and Private Development Center — PPDC is a Nigerian CSO set up to improve citizen engagement in public procurement and government spending. It seeks to get more people involved in how the government spends money, how resources are allocated and how people’s services, social and economic wellbeing can be improved.
PPDC has done this through a series of interventions, most notably the Budeshi platform and FOI rankings.
Budeshi (means open it) is a civic tech tool that uses the Open Contracting Data Standard to report and publish contracting data across the entire public procurement value chain. From the planning stage down to the implementation stage.
Budeshi is also publicly available for citizens to interact with and make comparisons of disclosure levels between multiple MDAs. Budeshiu has helped local communities to hold the government accountable. It played a major role in the adoption of the Open Contracting Data Standard — OCDS by the Nigerian government in 2016 during the London anti-corruption summit.
AFIC Open Data dashboards inspired by Budeshi
The success of Budeshi has inspired many countries to build similar tools around Africa, most notably in Uganda where Africa Freedom of Information Centre -AFIC has built Open Data dashboards around the same principle of making public procurement data available to everyone.
FOI Ranking is an annual report showing the compliance of public institutions with the Freedom of Information Act. The program started with 15 institutions in 2013, rising to 67 in 2014. In 2019, 191 institutions were ranked. Figures alone indicate that more and more Nigerian organizations are complying with or trying to comply. The parameters for the ranking are
- Proactive disclosure
- Responsiveness in the request for information
- level of disclosure
- FOI training
Furthermore, the ranking is not limited to ensuring accountability and transparency in public sector institutions by ensuring that MDA publishes data and people have timely and unlimited access to public information, but also enhancing disclosure practices that have a positive impact on how public resources are handled and used.
The success of the FOI Ranking program has given rise to the National Freedom of Information Ranking and a total of 203 public institutions, inclusive of the security sector.
ATI Around the world
On October 15, 2019, the 74th UN General Assembly (UNGA) declared September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
The resolution was adopted by consensus after a presentation by U.N. Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Liberia, who led the resolution proposal and negotiations.
UNESCO has celebrated this day since 2016 and emphasized how the right to access information enables all Sustainable Development Goals within the 2030 Agenda. In 2019, UNESCO organized a series of’ Open Talks’ to showcase access to information as a driver for sustainable development.
Gilbert Sendugwa, African Freedom of Information Center (AFIC) and one of the leading advocates for this resolution, commented on the importance of the resolution by stating that:
“This is special. It has been co-sponsored by 29 countries from all regions of the world, signifying recognition by the Member States that every individual, irrespective of nationality or color (you may need to reference gender, etc. if you are referring to nationality and color. Otherwise leave it at ‘every individual) need information for development. We observe, especially in Africa, that individual agencies among the 24 countries that have adopted ATI laws neither allocate budgetary provision nor put in place procedures for effective implementation. This resolution creates a platform to discuss how to overcome these hurdles”.
With open and free information, people can live in a world that is fair, equal and transparent