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A survey conducted by UNESCO has found that 125 of the UN’s 193 member states have enacted right to information laws or similar provisions.
However, more needs to be done to implement these laws and to make them effective, UNESCO said in its report, Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information: Highlights from the 2019 UNESCO Monitoring and Reporting of SDG Indicator 16.10.2. The report was released July 17, during the 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in New York. UNESCO undertakes the work of monitoring and reporting on the progress of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator 16.10.2 – access to information.
“At a local level, access to information when combined with participation, is a critical factor in improving the responsiveness and quality of public services, which is key to sustainable development,” said the report. It stressed that access to information is critical to achieving the UN’s SDGs since it empowers the public to make informed choices, effectively monitor and hold their government to account, and allow them to know about matters affecting their lives.
Countries without Right to Information (RTI), Access to Information (ATI) and Freedom of Information (FOI) laws should “consider introducing legal frameworks on access to information within the framework of enabling progress on the SDGs,” the report recommended.
Transparency tools such as mandated disclosure and open government data should be adopted to support enhanced government accountability and help fight corruption, among others, it said.
Countries should also establish oversight bodies, which can monitor and implement RTI/FOI/ATI laws, it added.
"Access to information and knowledge is a building block of civic participation and good governance. WACC fully supports UNESCO's call to implement existing laws and strengthen their effectiveness to allow people to change decisions affecting their lives," said Philip Lee, WACC General Secretary.
The report also recommended:
information of general public interest before it has been requested. “Improved proactive disclosure
practices will not only benefit the public, but also public bodies, as it helps reduce the number of
requests that they have to process and other administrative burdens.”
UNESCO made the recommendations based on pilot surveys it conducted this year to monitor progress on access to information through Voluntary National Reviews in 43 countries not categorized by the United Nations Development Programme as “being of very high human development.”
Of the 43 countries, 26 had Right to Information oversight bodies, and a majority of them have binding decision-making powers to enforce information disclosure where it is justified, the report said.
Seventeen of these countries also have right to information laws, the report said, with 88% reporting constitutional guarantees. They have also established mechanisms to monitor implementation of the SDGs in general, “but more needs to be done to monitor and report on access to information,” added the report.
The surveys—which were filled out by public authorities and/or researchers – were conducted by UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, in collaboration with the Centre for Law and Democracy.