Opinion brief: Open Government Movements and Access to Information
The open government principles have risen on the international agenda, becoming an ‘in vogue topic.’ The Open government principles have roots in a civic push for greater transparency and accountability in the decades following the Second World War.
The Africa Freedom of Information Centre views the Open Government Partnership as an important platform for the Access to Information in Africa. Universal convergence of the open government principles was cemented by the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral voluntary international initiative that seeks to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, enhance citizen’s participation, promote accountability, and adopt new technologies to strengthen governance. Seven African countries have joined OGP since its founding in 2011: Sierra Leone, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Liberia, Tunisia, and South Africa. The implication is that countries are committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government, and established transparency, participation, and collaboration. Having national access to information legislation is a precursor to joining the OGP; with clear guidance on how to put these new OGP principles into practice.
Numerous discussions on the OGP seem to suggest that promoting access to information legislation and open government principles under a single banner could lead to conceptual confusion that ultimately holds back progress for both projects. This debate revolves around the danger of governments getting credit for increased transparency by adopting national access information laws without meaningfully committing to steps that increase accountability.
While access to information and open government principles ‘can exist without the other’ they should not. In fact the Africa Freedom of Information Centre argues that, the growing ties between the right to information and open government movements, particularly in Africa, can benefit both agendas.
The right to access to information has created a culture shift in Africa; recognition that information is more valuable if it is available, accessible, structured and readable. Consistent pressure on governments to furnish information has fuelled greater steps toward openness. In-fact technological innovations have sprone from the need to access information. The AskYourGov and Sobanukirwa portals in Uganda and Rwanda respectively have generated headlines about the availability and accessibility of information.
Politicians opposed to greater public disclosure that enhances accountability are resistant for a reason; often, they fear that greater transparency may expose corruption or challenge their legitimacy. The OGP African regional meeting in May 2015 in Tanzania*; has already attracted political and policy debates around openness. Politicians have attempted to shift the debate from; not what information the government made publicly available but how to only optimise interactions between governments and citizens. Open government advocates; have fought for access to politically sensitive information that gets to the core of how government operates. Therefore it would appear that the collaboration between access to information and open government movements promise public disclosure that enhances civic accountability. Together, the movements seek information that enhances service delivery and public integrity, because the information is important and politically relevant.
Peter Katonene Mwesigwa
Legal & Research Officer
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
March 12, 2017
February 10, 2017