Transparency & silence: a survey of access to information laws and practices in fourteen countries

Transparency & silence: a survey of access to information laws and practices in fourteen countries

How 'public' is public information?

The ability of citizens to request and receive information on the workings of their government is crucial to ensure transparency and accountability. This report provides a snapshot on the state of access to information in fourteen countries. It provides the results of a study undertaken to discover how government offices and agencies respond to specific requests for information.

The study found that access to information laws does increase responsiveness. However, even in countries with freedom of information laws there is a serious problem with governments failing to respond to requests for information. The authors also point out that countries in transition provide more information than mature democracies. In addition, requests for information in countries where civil society movements were involved in information law reform received responses in more instances than others.

Key recommendations include:

  • national and local legislatures should adopt laws and implementation regulations that provide all persons access to information held by government bodies and bodies performing public functions 
  • civil society organisations should monitor freedom of information practices, file lawsuits in instances where discrimination is found, and seek the imposition of penalties as set forth in anti-discrimination laws 
  • public bodies should ensure that all of their personnel have a basic understanding of members rights to approach these bodies to request and access public information 
  • access to information laws and implementation regulations should elaborate procedures by public bodies to respond to requests for information within prescribed time frames
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