Today is International Right to Information Day. Countries around the world are celebrating their newfound right to ask and receive public information held, for the benefit of citizens, in the government’s trust.
The New Paradigm– Freedom of Information and Open Government
More than 40 of the world’s 90-odd national freedom of information (FOI) laws were enacted within the past decade. This year alone, 8 countries passed measures: El Salvador, Guinea Canakry, Guyana, Jersey, Liberia, Nigeria and Mongolia. Latin America accounts for 12 of the world’s laws. There is much to celebrate; we’ve entered a remarkable stage in democratic governance. As I wrote for an article published earlier this year in the Journal of Democracy, if the first stage of democracy was about the struggle to freely choose who governs, the second stage is to control how they govern, a task necessitating free access to information.
A FOI Law’s Open Government Toolkit Will Help Brazilians Govern Better
Brazil urgently needs a FOI law and more open government. This is a country too large and unwieldy to be governed by paid public servants alone – citizens need the tools to better monitor and collaborate with government. A FOI law lays out an extensive toolkit, including a provision for information to be disclosed in open formats, ambitious obligations for active transparency, and a wide scope: constitutionally regimented – covering all branches and levels of government.
Obstructionism Must End
A law was President Dilma Rousseff’s stated ambition. Yet the plan to approve the measure, on World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd, came and went. Obstructionism in the Senate prevented passage then, as it does today. Two ex-Presidents, José Sarney (1985-1990) and Fernando Collor (1990-92), one now the President of the Senate, the other, Chair of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, have used procedural delays to avoid a vote on the bill approved by the Chamber of Deputies in April 2010. As I wrote about over a month ago, Collor has also proposed amendments to the law that would effectively destroy the measure’s intent. The charade in the Senate must end, and it must end soon if Brazil is to make good on its commitments to the Open Government Partnership, much less to its people.
The most remarkable aspect of Brazil’s experience with FOI legislation is that President Rousseff ostensibly has overwhelming support in the Senate, and both Senators Sarney and Collor’s parties are part of the President’s governing coalition. As my upcoming book argues, Presidents with strong legislative and agenda-setting powers – like Brazil’s –have the ability to force the approval of strong FOI laws, but ironically, they are almost always the ones least likely to do so.
Brazil and Latin America’s FOI Trajectories Over the Last Decade
Below I provide a short point-form summary of Latin America’s FOI laws over the last decade (in blue), and Brazil’s FOI trajectory (in green).
For those interested in looking at an assessment examining the strength of FOI laws, around the world, have a look at this website unveiled today by Access Info and The Center for Law and Democracy
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