Lebanon: Stopping secrecy one law at a time
Lebanon is set to become the 95th country to adopt an access to information law that would empower its citizens to participate and question public and political affairs more closely.
Transparency International’s chapter in Lebanon, the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA), has been instrumental in bringing the issue of access to information to the attention of lawmakers and government officials. In 2008, LTA helped found the National Network for the Right of Access to Information together with Lebanese Parliamentarians against Corruption and the Association pour la Défense des Droits et des Libertés. The initial success came in April 2009 when law-makers submitted an initial draft law to parliament. Four years later, the parliament’s legislative committee has approved the current draft law.
With a law into effect, Lebanese citizens, journalists and civil society groups would be able to obtain public information to keep government and other public bodies accountable. In the recently published Global Corruption Barometer 2013, 71 per cent of Lebanese surveyed said that corruption is a significant problem across the public sector. Further, more than two in three people surveyed said they saw the judiciary followed by parliament and political parties as the institutions most affected by corruption.
These results indicate that people demand transparency from their public institutions. Legislation that protects access to information and encourages administrative bodies to share information with citizens would also reinforce the people’s trust in the public sector and nurture a culture of integrity.
With the Arab Spring in full swing, Lebanon joins other countries such as Libya, Morocco and Tunisia that are considering the drafting of access to information laws. Jordan and Yemen are the only two countries in the region that already have them on the books but implementation has been sorely lacking.
We ask all authorities, starting with the Lebanese president all the way to the speaker of Parliament, to work and fight for integrity and transparency.”
– Nada Abdelsater-Abusamra, LTA Chairwoman.
Lebanese lawmakers should take into account these experiences and should consider:
- The adoption of a public interest clause.
- Devotion of adequate resources for access to information requests.
- Setting up an independent commission to rule on cases in which a public body declines an information request.
The current draft law abides by international standards in that it avoids vaguely worded restrictions on the nature and type of information the public can access.
This means that any Lebanese may seek access to official meeting minutes and correspondence of parliament and parliamentary committees, government statistics, contracts made by the specific administration that would allow for budgetary and fiscal transparency.
With the security situation worsening in Lebanon and parliament recently announcing that elections will not be held for another year, the Lebanese public needs this law more than ever to keep their politicians honest and accountable.
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