BERLIN - The Transparency International secretariat has called on governments in the Asia-Pacific region to strengthen their right to information laws and make information more accessible to the public.
Transparency International also says existing laws need to be better implemented by public officials and used more widely by citizens, civil society and the media.
To mark International Right to Know Day yesterday, the organisation released a report assessing the right to information performance of 11 countries including Papua New Guinea, which failed to achieve seven of nine indicators.
“Several of the countries assessed in this report have recently been rocked by corruption scandals involving senior officials and political leaders,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International.
“Most continue to score poorly on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.
“A well-functioning right to information system is critical for exposing and deterring abuses of power and for supporting the fight against corruption.”
More than half the countries assessed, including PNG, have no information commissioners to safeguard this right, train officials, promote the law and monitor its application.
The report also highlighted that freedom of expression is limited or under threat in several of the countries assessed.
While the constitution of PNG enshrines the right of access to information and stipulates that a law should be adopted on this matter, this has failed to be done in all the years since independence.
The report said there are some promising, though faint, signs that the government intends to introduce a right to information act.
It claimed that PNG “has a relatively free media environment”, although many observers would disagree with this conclusion as journalists find themselves increasingly forced to conform to pressure from government or commercial interests.
Although the government set up a ‘freedom of information committee’ in 2016, it has yet to adopt an action plan with clear commitments on adopting and implementing a right to information law.
The report said that, while PNG has no right to information act, in practice qualified rights have been exercised with reference to the constitution. It noted that a community group is currently seeking the public release of information on a proposed deep sea mine, referring to Section 51 of the constitution.
Legal proceedings are pending and the decision will indicate how the courts view this right.
In its recommendations, Transparency International said PNG needs to adopt a right to information act in line with international standards and assess current procedures of state agencies, as some have taken proactive steps in the disclosure of information.
It also recommended that, until an Information Commission is established, the Ombudsman Commission should receive complaints and investigate violations of the right to freedom of information and help eliminate unfair and defective practices by government bodies.
“Papua New Guineans can see the benefit to countries in our region from legislated access to information, whether it be wider civic participation or increased accountability in all levels of government,” says Arianne Kassman, executive director of Transparency International PNG.
“It is now up to our legislators to fulfil the promised right in our national constitution, which has been there since 1975, and enable similar outcomes in our country.”