Friday, September 28, 2012

International Right to Know Day

As mentioned in my previous post, today is International Right to Know Day, when we celebrate freedom of information and promote the right of public access to our government information. To celebrate, the Freedom of Information Advocates Network has released a Statement on the Achievements, Challenges and Goals on the 10th Anniversary of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network [PDF]. There's a lot of good news in this: the right to information is being increasingly recognised as a human right protected by international law, more countries are getting FOI legislation, and it is being used more by media and civil society groups. At the same time, fewer than half of all countries have FOI laws, and implementation is often poor in those that do (including in countries we think of as being highly democratic, such as Canada). And there is a growing trend of governments trying to reinstate secrecy, by trying to exclude bodies or categories of information from coverage.

These trends are echoed locally. The Ombudsman's Office released its annual report [PDF] yesterday, which strongly criticised the government for its attitude to the law:

The Ombudsman's Office has warned of "highly dangerous" moves by the Government to keep information secret by drafting laws to avoid the Official Information Act.

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem says she is concerned at the increasing number of officials in government agencies who fail to understand the constitutional importance of the legislation.

She pointed to several "reprehensible" attempts in the past year by officials to disallow Official Information Act requests for drafts of legislation, in particular on partial state asset sales, charter schools and changes to mining permits.

"I think it's the beginning of something that's highly dangerous," she told the

This is extremely strong language for an Ombudsman, and it suggests that the problem is serious. After thirty years of growing transparency, the government is trying to roll back the Act - and officials are taking their lead. Its not something we should let them get away with.