We asked members of the ICIC Governance Working Group for their reflections on the challenges they faced in 2019, and a look ahead to the opportunities 2020 brings.
Elizabeth Denham, UK Information Commissioner and ICIC chair:
“Perhaps the biggest challenge the ICIC faced in 2019 was making the most of the opportunity before us. Access to information is a right that continues to grow around the world, and our conference in South Africa in March saw what was surely the biggest contingent of commissioners our group has so far brought together.
“We benefited at that conference from our collective influence and shared expertise. The challenge now is to shape our network moving forward, with agreed priorities and better mechanisms for year-round collaboration.
“Central to that is the ICIC becoming a membership organisation, and the opportunities that brings in 2020. The Johannesburg Charter provides the foundations for the network to grow and develop, and the work of the Secretariat and the Governance Working Group in drafting the Charter and ensuring its adoption was crucial.
“We already have more than 45 members from around the world, united by a respect for the importance of access to information as a bedrock of modern democratic society.
“I’d urge Information Commissioners, ombudspersons and bodies responsible for protecting and promoting access to information to join the ICIC membership.“Domestically, our focus continues to be on ensuring the compliance of the Freedom of Information Act, and our recommendation for the right to know to be extended where public services are outsourced to private companies.”
Adv. Pansy Tlakula, Chairperson, Information Regulator (South Africa):
“The Information Regulator is dealing with two interesting cases. In the first case the Regulator has been cited as one of the respondents in a case in which the media has applied for an order compelling the tax authority to disclose the tax information of a public figure. The second is a complaint submitted by a public representative against a media house which has published his personal information. This information includes his banking transactions and telephone conversations.
“These two matters provide the Regulator the opportunity to make a contribution to the development of jurisprudence on the reconciliation between the right of access to information, the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy as a matter of public interest.”
“We also hope that 2020 is the year in which the Protection of Personal Information Act will become fully effective.”
Marko Milosevic, Head of Reporting Division, Sector for Cooperation and Reporting, Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, Serbia:
“Key issues in access to information in Serbia last year were related to the Draft amendments of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance. In 2019, a challenge was that the draft amendments envisaged potential narrowing the scope of the law excluding some subjects, ie state-owned enterprises, which was, to a point, prevented in communication with the relevant Ministry. However, in 2020, the opportunities arising from potential adoption of the amendments might be ensuring the enforcement of Commissioner’s decisions, and defining financial penalties.”
“The biggest opportunity in 2020 is potential transfer of supervision powers from the Ministry to the Commissioner, thus increasing capacities of the Commissioner to ensure enforcement of the Law.
Dr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, Right to Access Information Commission, Sierra Leone
“The challenges in 2019 were limited staff capacity and resources and a lack of recognition of our broad mandate covering regulation of not only open data but also data protection and records management, as provided for in sections 12-26 and sections 27-29 of the RAI Act 2013, respectively.
“Some notable achievements were moving head office to a bigger, cheaper and more central part of Freetown, a web site, more than 100 percent increase in the number of FOI requests and complaints, and the launch of the proactive disclosure of information scheme. We also supported Sierra Leone to co-sponsor UN Resolution making 28 September International Day for the Universal Access to Information- validating RAIC regulations, and designed a five-year strategic plan.”
“The big opportunity of 2020 is that the commission will produce an annual report, for the first time since its creation in 2014. This report, together with the functional and management review of our commission report and recommendations and the strategic plan, will soon be presented to the country’s parliament and executive for action and this would hopefully help us resolve our challenges and achieve more. The commission will continue to benefit from donor funding to support some of its core deliverables on open data, popularisation of the Act, staff capacity building, records management, etc.”
Francisco Javier Acuña Llamas, Chair Commissioner, INAI
“Our biggest challenges were around monitoring compliance and training regulated entities. We also promoted compliance where entities hadn’t met their transparency obligations.
“In 2020 we’ll be focused on implementing our Annual Program for Monitoring and Accompaniment. We’ll be providing technical assistance to regulated entities, and to the subnational oversight bodies we have. And we’ll focus on digital tools for open data.“We want to continue strengthening the promotion of the access to information right among Mexican society. We also want to strengthen open government exercises at a subnational level, by supporting the creation and monitoring of local action plans.”