The guidance note is a building block in the development of UNDP’s Access to Information ‘tool kit’ of which the Access to Information Practice Note [MS Word format] and the Practical Guidance Note on Civic Education [PDF format] are cornerstones.
From the Executive Summary
"In the last decade, governments around the world have become increasingly more open. By 2003, over 50 countries had comprehensive laws to facilitate access to official information and more are enacting such legislation. Governments increasingly recognize the importance of access to information for enhancing democratic engagement, building confidence in government institutions and strengthening their credibility and effectiveness. However, in many States, including democracies, people are still routinely denied access to information that should be in the public domain. Only 30 of the countries in which UNDP is present have laws requiring the disclosure of government records.
This Practical Guidance Note aims to:
- Heighten awareness and knowledge within UNDP country offices (COs) on right to information generally and right to information legislation specifically;
- Assist COs by providing practical information and guidance for right to information legislation programming;
- Signpost additional resources, sources of expertise and further reading.
Chapter one explains what is a right to information and why it is important, particularly the contribution right to information legislation can make to creating a more open and democratic society, challenging corruption and enhancing transparency and poverty reduction (achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Information can empower poor communities to battle the circumstances in which they find themselves and help balance the unequal power dynamic that exists between people marginalised through poverty and their governments. This transparent approach to working also helps poor communities to be visible on the political map so that their interests can be advanced.
UNDP can play an important role in promoting right to information in a number of ways including levering its relationships with host governments; acting as a catalyst for change by supporting different right to information initiatives; identifying opportunities for constructive intervention in the debates and discussions that are likely to be taking place; using its own global expertise and experience of working on democratic governance issues; and meeting the commitments set out in its own Information and Disclosure Policy (IDP).
Chapter two focuses on promoting the right to information in different contexts. While demand for right to information legislation may be fuelled from different concerns or contexts (i.e. political transition, corruption concerns, environmental concerns, external pressures for economic reform) the role of civil society organizations, including the media in articulating that demand and contributing to its realisation in actual legislation is all important. UNDP can support campaigns for a right to information by raising awareness on the importance of right to information legislation; supporting activities that feed local civil society initiatives into wider debate; and providing space for dialogue between civil society organisations (CSOs) and public officials.
Chapter three explores the content of right to information legislation particularly the legal guarantees provided in it and the scope of the legislation. These aspects significantly influence the extent to which the legislation can contribute to creating an open and democratic society, challenging corruption and reducing poverty. The legislation must meet minimum international standards which are described in this guidance note among these include the principle of maximum disclosure, limited exceptions for withholding information and the establishment of effective and efficient appeals mechanisms.
Chapter four focuses on implementation considerations - right to information legislation will be completely ineffectual without measures and mechanisms focused on implementation. Building public awareness on the right to information, promoting an informed civil service on the implications of the legislation through specific capacity development activities, encouraging cultural change within the civil service built on the premise that official information belongs to the people, developing an efficient and well organized information management system and establishing an effective regulatory machinery including the courts and an information commission or ombudsman are key in this regard.
The final section of the paper, chapter five, signposts additional resources and further reading."
Email from Elizabeth McCall (UNDP) to The Communication Initiative on August 4 2004.