11 July 2012

Open Government Partnership criticised for lack of focus on access to information legislation

The Centre for Law and Democracy (the Centre) has criticised participating states in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) for what it has labelled a ‘conspicuous weakness' of access to information law reform in state action plans.

The OGP claims, on its website, to be a "multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance".

To that end, all participating states are required to prepare action plans which map out the commitments that countries pledge to undertake to improve their performance in the three key areas of the OGP - transparency, accountability and citizen participation.

On 11 July 2012 the Centre released a report in which it analysed the 44 action plans submitted by participating states to date and considered whether, and to what extent, they contain a commitment to access to information law reform.

The Centre found that only thirty per cent of the plans contain any meaningful commitment to access to information reform. More specifically the Centre found that of the 55 participating states:

• eight did not have an access to information law when they joined the OGP, including Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, despite a legal protection for access to information being among the four key eligibility criteria for joining the OGP. In fact two states without an access to information law, Tanzania and the Philippines, are on the OGP's nine-member Steering Committee, a situation the Centre describes as "fundamentally incompatible with the leadership role associated with being on the Steering Committee". Of the eight, six have submitted action plans which include a commitment to adopt an access to information law; Tanzania committed to prepare a draft law by July 2012; Kenya has set a target of November 2012 for the adoption of access to information legislation; Ghana is yet to table an action plan.

• 14 currently have extremely weak access to information laws, and yet of the 12 that have submitted action plans, only four include meaningful reforms to the respective access to information laws;

• 26 currently have relatively strong access to information laws, and four of those states have committed to significantly reform their legal framework for access to information in their action plans, while three have proposed minor improvements;

• nine states pledged to improve the implementation of their access to information laws;

• two states failed to promise any reform of their access to information regime, but did include reforms to ancillary legislation;

• eight states, including South Africa, completely failed to mention access to information, or proposed minor technological improvements that provide little in the way of substantial improvement.

The Centre is particularly concerned about the absence of commitments to access to information law reform in the context of the limited review of action plans envisaged by the OGP. The Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) has been established as the main evaluation mechanism of the OGP. However, it has been determined that recommendations by the IRM should be technical in nature and will not include a review of the substance of plans. The Centre commented that "this could become a major deficiency in the structure of OGP", noting that "[t]here is a serious risk of States presenting weak action plans, and essentially taking advantage of the OGP to improve their images while doing little to enhance transparency, accountability and participation in practice."

The Centre has therefore called on the OGP to establish a framework of minimum standards and expectations, including benchmarks for the quality of access to information legislation, with a view to promoting improvement over time.