People need the information to make decisions on personal development, education of their children or health of mothers. They need information in order to influence policies and decisions of government on where more efforts are needed and when. Citizens need the information to limit the consequences of climate change and to provide feedback on how well government interventions are working. Africa Freedom of Information Centre presented the third State of the Right to Information in Africa Report 2017 which focused on citizens’ access to information in the context of SDG 16.10.2
Without citizens’ access to information, it will be impossible for any country to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 16.10, states plainly that all countries pledge to: ‘’ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”
The right of access to information is a fundamental freedom and a human right, an integral part of the right to freedom of expression and the associated right to media freedom. Presently in Africa, 39 percent have specific access to information legislation. Even though the number of countries with these laws has doubled in the last five years, the study findings reveal that achievement on the SDG 16.10.2 is still very low. Indeed, there is a need to further encourage African countries to develop and adopt access to information legal frameworks and effectively implement the measures to guarantee this fundamental right. Access to information laws empower individuals and civil society to understand the policies with which the public administration and legislators make decisions relating to health, education, trade and infrastructure and the objective basis for such decisions. For the private sector, access to good-quality information is vital for tendering, for open competition, and for an efficient marketplace.
Democracy depends on an informed and educated citizenry whose access to a broad range of information enables them to participate fully in public life, help determine priorities for public spending, receive equal access to justice, and hold their public officials accountable. When the government agencies operate under a veil of secrecy, it results in people are denied the right to know about public affairs, the press is only able to speculate and subsist on rumors and allow corruption and misuse of public funds.
Access to information laws empowers individuals, youth, women, people with disabilities and others are empowered by one Access to Information laws and civil society to understand the policies with which the public administration and legislators make decisions relating to health, education, trade and infrastructure and the objective basis for such decisions. Access to Information enables businesses to predict the environment and invest in order to take full advantage of opportunities in a fair and open competition environment. This provides for better growth and for creation, enhancing the realization of the SDG. Access to good quality information is vital for tendering, for open competition, and for an efficient marketplace.
Freedom of expression and access to information are not just fundamental rights; they are also prerequisites for other human rights. When people have access to accurate and quality information, they can unreservedly express their opinions, and they can actively participate in their own social and economic development. The strong linkage between effective access to information and democracy, good governance, peace, and economic development has been confirmed in many studies. There is a demonstrated connection between free media and reduced corruption, political stability, rule of law, reduced poverty, and increased expenditure on health systems.
Although more and more African countries have adopted access to information legislation, slow or ineffective implementation of such laws remains a challenge. Civil society organizations say that most African governments have failed to establish well-defined legal provisions for exceptions to that right, lack sufficient requirements for public education, and have done little or almost nothing to advance on implementation.
Despite all these challenges, the international community has joined together on a common vision to ensure the sustainable development of all countries by 2030, and the right of access to information is a driving principle for this vision.