Right to information: a tool for people power

Right to information: a tool for people power

This Saturday, 28 September marks the fourth International Day for the Universal Access to Information and an important moment for transparency and anti-corruption efforts.

Globally, approximately 120 countries have right to information laws. In some countries, these laws are top notch, while in others, the laws either don’t exist or need significant improvements.

Legislation, though, is only half the battle. Without full implementation, laws have little chance of success.

From Jamaica to Germany and Mexico to Montenegro, citizens around the world are speaking out and demanding their right to information to ensure greater accountability from government.

But are most people even aware of their right to request information in the first place?

New research from Latin America

We know information is essential for empowering citizens to hold governments accountable and tackle corruption.

Yet, according to our new Global Corruption Barometer – Latin America and the Caribbean 2019, published earlier this week, less than half of people (39 per cent) in the region are aware of their right to request information from government agencies and institutions.

Only 17 per cent of citizens used this right to request official documents from the government in the previous 12 months.

However, in Jamaica and Mexico, the data paints a more hopeful picture.

More than half of citizens in Jamaica and Mexico are aware of their right to information (51 per cent and 64 per cent respectively), which are the highest results in the region.

Yet, in other countries around the world, the universal right to information is currently under threat.

Legal challenges in Montenegro

Recent proposed amendments to a right to information law in Montenegro raise serious concerns that risk undermining the country’s constitution.

The amendments would make it harder for citizens to freely access information that was previously publicly available.

At the same time, the Montenegrin government would have broader leeway to classify information and apply additional restrictions.   

Greater transparency in Germany

Since 1999, in Berlin, Germany, the Freedom of Information Act has allowed Berliners to access government information and documents to better understand the inner workings of their city government.  

However, information is only available upon request and the process entails fees and long wait times. There are numerous exceptions and loopholes to the law that allow information to remain restricted.

A new Transparency Act would require Berlin government officials to publish important information in a proactive, timely and centralised manner – all free of charge.

Transparency International Germany, together with 50 partner organisations, recently formed the Alliance for Transparency, to convince local policymakers to take up the issue in the legislature.

However, in order to prompt a debate in the Berlin Senate, the alliance needs to collect 20,000 signatures from Berlin residents and German citizens by November 2019. Learn how you can help.

Parliamentary openness campaign in Sri Lanka

Over the past year, 10 members of the Sri Lankan Parliament agreed to publicly declare their assets in the name of transparency.

Our chapter, Transparency International Sri Lanka, is working hard to ensure that more lawmakers follow suit.

Passed in 2016, the country’s right to information law was a critical and necessary first step towards public disclosure of parliamentarians’ assets. Without the law, asset declarations from elected officials would have remained out of the reach of Sri Lankan citizens. Read more.

Journalist investigates local roads in Pakistan

After raising concerns about the poor conditions of the local roads in his community in Pakistan, Sher Khan, a journalist from Burewala Tehsil, decided to do something about it.

Khan filed several information requests with his local government to inquire about the budget for road development. What he found was troubling.

The information the government disclosed to Khan showed a range of work commissioned, but never completed. This included an extended railway crossing gate, traffic signs, street lights and new paving tiles. Read more.

Training goes a long way in Cambodia

In Cambodia, government officials like Samnang Chey, are sometimes the biggest advocates for right to information in their local communities.

After completing a training on good governance and public service delivery in Kampong Cham, a province in Cambodia, Chey was better equipped to field information requests and teach other colleagues his new skills.

Since 2017, Chey has trained 433 government officials to help citizens access a range of public services more easily and effectively. He even developed a new smartphone app to help citizens find relevant forms, service delivery times and information on associated fees. Learn more.

What we’re doing

While laws are incredibly important in improving people’s access to information in countries around the world, they’re only part of a bigger picture of freedom of information.  

Transparency International and our chapters work to ensure right to information laws are in line with international standards, fully applied in practice and used by citizens to hold government accountable. We also play an important role in helping citizens understand how to use their rights.

Whether filling out a form online, requesting information in person or through the mail, helping with follow-up at municipal offices or working to appeal refusals, we help ensure citizens are armed with the information they need to better understand their government and make a difference in tackling corruption.

Image: Transparency International Bangladesh

For any press enquiries please contact press@transparency.org


Support Transparency International

Support Us

CPI 2019: Global Highlights

CPI 2019 reveals that a majority of countries are showing little to no improvement in tackling corruption. More than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with an average score of just 43.

Индекс восприятия коррупции 2019: Восточная Европа и Центральная Азия

Регион имеет сложности с ограниченным разделением властей, злоупотреблением государственными ресурсами в избирательных целях, непрозрачным финансированием политических партий и конфликтами интересов.

Corruption Perceptions Index 2019

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and business people.

الشرق الأوسط وشمال إفريقيا

وبنفس معدل الدرجات البالغ ً 39خلال العام الماضي، كان هناك تقدما ً ضئيلا في تحسين السيطرة على الفساد في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال إفريقيا

IPC 2019: Afrique Subsaharienne

Tandis que les Seychelles sont aux prises avec des affaires de blanchiment d’argent, dimension qui n’est pas pris en compte dans le calcul de l’IPC , plusieurs lois anti-corruption, notamment une loi récente sur l’accès à l’information et une commission anti-corruption créée il y a peu, ont contribué à renforcer le cadre de la lutte contre la corruption dans le pays.

CPI 2019: Middle East and North Africa

With the same average score of 39 as last year, there is little progress in improving control of corruption in the Middle East and North Africa region.

IPC 2019: Américas

Por cuatro año consecutivo, con una puntación media de 43 puntos, la región de las Américas no logra progresar significativamente en la lucha contra la corrupción.

Social Media

Follow us on Social Media