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News

An Action Conference on Access to Information was opened this morning in Lusaka, Zambia by the Country’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting. He reaffirmed Zambia’s commitment to pass an FOI law. This conference- which brings together approximately 150 right to information stakeholders from government, civil society, media, private sector, academia, donor community, regional and international organisations- aims to reflect on the domestication of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI), Open Government Partnership (OGP) and other initiatives on the African continent. 

   The Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), member of the APAI Working Group, has been actively involved in the campaign to promote the APAI Declaration in Africa and beyond. For example, AFIC participated in the drafting of the Carthage Declaration on World Press Freedom Day 2012 which calls on governments to endorse APAI and recognise September 28 as Right to Information Day. APAI sets out a number of principles that are key for the full realisation of the right of access to information.  


The Open Government Partnership Africa Regional Meeting is currently underway at the Serena Beach Hotel, Mombasa, with representatives from 16 countries in attendance. This is the first OGP Africa Regional Meeting that has attracted a wide variety of Participants and Speakers who include OGP participating governments,Civil society activists, Academia, Multilateral institutions and other interested actors and the Media.  

The Meeting was opened by Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo who welcomed participants to the first Africa Regional Meeting. Joseph Powell from the OGP Support Unit noted the growth of OGP participating governments from 8 member countries to 59 member countries. Powell also emphasized on OGP being a genuinely inclusive process for the government and civil society.  

Gladwell Otieno, Executive Director, Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG)  highlighted the importance of access to free information and concrete commitments by governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.  

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration Ayando Dlodlo challenged Civil Society on transparency and accountability and called on Civil Societies to work hand in hand with their respective government for the betterment of citizens. Ayando highlighted on the use of ICT by governments to offer opportunities for information sharing and public participation and innovation, and invest in the feedback from the Citizens.  

There has been an explosion in access to information legislation since the turn of the millennium with an unprecedented number of right to information laws being adopted. Worldwide there were just 12 laws in place at the beginning of 2000 but by the end of the decade there were over eighty, although only five were in Africa – Angola, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe. And the pace has only quickened since then. Now there are 94 laws in place around the world – and 11 in Africa.
 
During the Africa Regional Conference on Access to Information organised in 2010 by the Carter Centre, former US President Jimmy Carter said that providing people with the right to know was essential for a modern democracy built on an enduring relationship between the state and its people.
 
A participant representing the government of Ethiopia observed that his government and other governments in Africa were committed to advancing the right to information on the continent but needed guidance about what the legislation should look like. He noted that a model law would help not only countries contemplating the adoption of access to information laws but also those that already have such laws but were struggling with implementation.
 
This was the beginning of a demand-driven Model Law on Access to Information for Africa. Following this request, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted Resolution 167 (XLVIII) 2010 authorising the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa to initiate the process of developing a model access to information law for Africa.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes a comprehensive new access to information law, which came into effect in Rwanda yesterday (11th March 2013). This is a positive step by the Rwandan Government, which must be given full effect.

This passage of this law shows that the Rwandan government is keen to entrench transparency and accountability as well as enhancing  greater participation by citizens in the management of public affairs. We are enormously proud to be associated with the spirited campaign that has championed this law” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE19 Eastern Africa.

ARTICLE 19 has led multi-stakeholder initiatives advocating for the enactment of this law with local groups like the Rwanda Civil Society Platform.

ARTICLE 19 finds the law exemplary in terms of its scope of application. The law applies not only to public bodies but also to some private bodies, which carry out work in the public interest. There is a strong emphasis on the importance of the public interest in the right to information and we are pleased to see that this is reflected by limited fees to pay, which will cover the cost of the reproduction of papers and for postage.

The law also has clear provisions on proactive disclosure and allows for all people to seek, receive and disseminate information, which is a progressive step as other laws on the continent only allow citizens this right.

ARTICLE 19 notes that the law has some broad exemptions, where access to information may be restricted in relation to national security and the administration of justice and trade secrets.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) boasts some pretty lofty and much-needed goals. The global initiative aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. It was officially launched September 20, 2011 by eight founding governments: Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States.

Now that the OGP is nearly one year old, it’s a good time to analyze how it’s faring—most notably in Africa, which has a long history of secrecy in government and lack of effective public participation.

 The OGP in Africa

Since the OGP’s launch, 57 countries—mainly from Europe and the Americas—have joined the initiative. However, few countries in Africa actually meet eligibility requirements of the partnership, so expansion has been slow. OGP eligibility is based on governments’ demonstrated commitments to transparency in four key areas: timely publication of essential budget documents; adopting an access-to-information law guaranteeing the public’s right to government information; instituting rules requiring public disclosure of income and assets for elected and senior public officials; and openness to citizen participation in policy-making, including basic protections for civil liberties. Only six African countries currently meet the guidelines to join OGP: South Africa,

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right (ACHPR) has reappointed Commissioner Pansy Tlakula as its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa for another two years.

Pansy Tlakula was reappointed on November 5, 2013 by Resolution 247 titled “Resolution on the Renewal of the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa”. The resolution was adopted by the Commission at its 54thOrdinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia.

In the latest resolution reappointing her, the African Commission recalled its mandate to promote human and peoples’ rights and ensure their protection in Africa under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The Commission, in the exercise of its mandate, established various mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in Africa.

It specifically recalled the Resolution on the Mandate and Appointment of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted at its 36th Ordinary Session held from November 23 to December 7, 2004 in Dakar, Senegal.

Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) is pleased to join the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet) in launching a major global analysis of the development of the right to information (RTI) movement, broken down by region. The publication follows FOIAnet’s celebration of its 10th anniversary on International Right to Know Day, 28 September 2012.

The Update, which was co-authored by different human rights advocates for each of the seven regions it covers, presents the very different challenges, developments and experiences of civil society advocates for RTI in each region of the world. The Update also describes the key struggles that have taken place in each region, successes and failures, and lessons learned, along with a selection of case studies that illustrate how RTI has been promoted within each region.

“This is the very first time FOIAnet has produced a major publication,” said Toby Mendel, Chair of FOIAnet. This is a wonderful way to build on our anniversary 10-10-10 Statement: Achievements, Challenges and Goals on the 10th Anniversary of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet).”

The question of how to ensure public access to government information without jeopardizing legitimate efforts to protect people from national security threats is the focus of a new set of global principles being unveiled today.

The new Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (Tshwane Principles) are the result of over two years of consultation around the world, facilitated by the Open Society Justice Initiative and involving governments, former security officials, civil society groups, and academics.

The Principles address in unprecedented detail the balance between secrecy and the public’s right to know, in a world that has been transformed by global efforts to combat terrorism and the parallel rise of new digital technologies, as well as the rapid growth of right to information laws.

In addition to addressing what government-held information may legitimately be kept secret and what information should be disclosed, they outline standards for the treatment of whistleblowers who act in the public interest, as well as issues related to classification and declassification, and other questions.

The first Open Government Partnership (OGP) Africa regional meeting was hosted by the Government of Kenya from May 29-30, 2013 at the Coastal City of Mombasa. The meeting aimed at outlining an Africa agenda for open governance, promoting OGP in Africa and sharing and learning...

The Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), in collaboration with the World Bank Institute, has organized a video conference for civil society organizations (CSOs) from the five Open Government Partnership (OGP) countries in Africa (Ghana, Liberia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa). The aim of the VC was to facilitate knowledge sharing and peer support for OGP in Africa.

The VC, which took place on January 16, brought together 65 CSO representatives from Africa OGP countries as well as Messrs. Luiz Esquivel of the WBI Access to Information Program and Paul Maassen, the Independent Civil Society Coordinator for OGP. 4 CSOs from Uganda also participated in the conference and were curious to learn from their peers in the other countries how to motivate government to join the partnership. Uganda is eligible but has not yet indicated its intention to join.

Following submissions from participants and the rich discussions that ensued, one can observe a gain in OGP momentum in Africa and recognition of its value in promoting transparency, accountability and trust in government.A report of proceedings is available here Report of OGP Africa VC

Key Lessons

Firstly, Structures are in place for civil society to interface with government in the development and follow up of country action plans. Liberia has an OGP steering committee led by the Ministry of Information. Civil society is represented on this committee and is making input to the action plan being developed. There is a similar trend in Ghana where six of the fifteen members of the OGP Steering Committee come from civil society. Ghana’s action plan is still in the works and this institutional arrangement affords civil society the opportunity to influence the process; especially in ensuring the adoption of the long-awaited ATI law. Tanzania has submitted its action plan. Though weak on ATI, a formal arrangement does exist for civil society to monitor compliance.

The Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) has called on Heads of State and Government of La Francophonie to consider adoption frameworks that promote citizens’ right to information during their summit in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo from 12-14 October 2012.

The call is contained in the Kinshasa Declaration adopted at the end of a Forum for civil society organizations in Francophone Africa that took place in Kinshasa for the 8-12 October 2012. The Forum was organized to precede La Francophonie Summit to draw the leaders’ attention to the multiple governance challenges facing French-speaking countries in Africa in particular and to formulate recommendations for improvement.

AFIC is urging La Francophonie member-states to adopt a declaration on access to information, member states to adopt and effectively implement comprehensive national freedom of information legislations and also recognize September 28 as International Right to Information Day in line with the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) Declaration.

Despite the absence of widespread documented evidence on the benefits of access to information (ATI) legislation, its role in advancing the progress of open democracy in countries where the legislation exists cannot be disputed. ATI legislation, appeals to objectives that are directed at good-governance constants of transparency, accountability and informed public participation, which underpin sound democracy.

Most commentators on the subject ranging from, experts, specific interest groups, civil society, ordinary communities, governments etc have contended that, access to information legislation is a tool for empowering citizens, including vulnerable and excluded people to claim their rights by enabling them to exercise their voice, hold government to account and participate in informed dialogue about decisions that affect their lives.

 

ATI Civil Society Coalition study tour

 

Last week, I had the opportunity of participating in a study tour in Kampala, Uganda organised by the Civil Society Coalition on Access to Information. Other members of the delegation included, a representative from Zambia Civic Education Association (ZCEA) and Press Freedom Committee of The Post, respectively.

 

The objective of the tour was to learn from the Ugandan experience with the view to gather insights that would inform the Coalitions input to Zambia’s ATI process. The study tour was coordinated by Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) a Pan-African human rights civil society organisation promoting the right of access to information on the African continent.


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula has commended Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and other civil society organisations for the work the organisation is doing in promoting the right to information in Africa. Advocate Tlakula was presenting her activity report during the 52nd Ordinary Session of ACHPR held in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire from October 9-22, 2012.

AFIC has worked with the African Commission in the development and eventual adoption of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) declaration, consultations on the draft Access to Information Model Law for African Union member states, promotion of ratification of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance as well as other regional treaties guaranteeing the right to information. Other areas of collaboration have been in reviewing draft bills, analysis of RTI laws, research as well as regional advocacy.

The first ever Global Conference on Open Contracting held in Johannesburg, South Africa from October 23-26, 2012 has concluded

that accessing contract documents is very important for the realization of value for money in public contracting. The hosted by the 
World Bank Institute and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (implemented by GIZ), in cooperation with Transparency International, Oxfam America, Integrity Action, the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative, the government of the Philippines. 

It aimed at

 

  • Profiling and positioning the issue of open contracting in the larger international debate
  • Bringing together a diverse group of innovative actors interested in advancing Open Contracting work around the world
  • Developing the agenda and initial focus for the Open Contracting movement – building on and refining the insights from the design meeting

This post was co-written by Peter Veit of the World Resources Institute and Gilbert Sendugwa, Coordinator and Head of Secretariat for the Africa Freedom of Information Centre.
 
Open government requires an open executive branch, an open legislature, and an open judiciary. Historically, however, global attention to government transparency and access to information has focused on the executive branch.
 
But this may finally be changing. In April of this year, 38 civil society organizations from around the world convened in Washington, D.C. and agreed to work together to advance open parliaments. In September, more than 90 civil society organizations from more than 60 countries launched the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness in Rome.
 
Civil society attention on lawmakers and legislatures is critically important—especially in Africa, where parliaments have long worked behind closed doors (most legislatures on the continent are parliaments). Transparency is needed for civil society to hold legislators accountable for their decisions and actions, and to ensure they are responsive to the needs and concerns of their constituents.