16 years after the discussion of the Law on the Right of Access to Information
Ramallah – The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) released a press statement on the occasion of the International Day for the Universal Access to Information, which fell on 28 September 2019. The Access to Information Day marks 16 years since the Draft Law on the Right of Access to Information was last deliberated by the first Palestinian Legislative Council. The Law on the Right of Access to Information establishes public confidence in state institutions, promotes the values of integrity, and consolidates the principles of transparency and systems of accountability. Blocking publication and lack of access to public records continue to be the most striking feature of successive Palestinian governments’ approach to the right of access to information. In spite of recurrent promises to finalise it, the Law on the Right of Access to Information has not been enacted until the present day.
AMAN is of the view that failure to realise the right of access to information substantially jeopardises the integrity of the Palestinian public sector, allowing opportunities for corruption due to the lack of transparency. An unrealised right of access to information also undermines accountability efforts. The Law on the Right of Access to Information provides a tool to enable society to hold accountable public administration and public financial management, ensuring consistence with the principles of good governance. Reflecting a Palestinian popular demand, the Law on the Right of Access to Information is needed by researchers, students, journalists, civil society organisations, and everyone concerned with public affairs. The Law is one of the essential requirements stipulated by the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which Palestine ratified. It is also a requirement for accession to the Open Government Initiative, which the former Palestinian government applied for.
In its press release, AMAN asserted that the right of access to information was contingent on the approval and enactment of the National Archive Law, which ensures that the Law on the Right of Access to Information is properly enforced. The National Archive Law provides for classifying information according to specific criteria and controls, developing a solid, reliable, user-friendly and electronically archived database, ensuring easy access to information both for researchers and for information management agencies.
AMAN called on the government to promptly approve and promulgate the Law on the Right of Access to Information in consistence with the best practice of respect for the right of access to information. This necessarily requires that substantial amendments be introduced to the Draft Law on the Right of Access to Information, which has been submitted to the Council of Ministers. In particular, the scope of exceptions to the right of access to information should not expansive. In this context, the Draft Law uses some overbroad and loosely defined terms, turning the exception into the rule. Without these amendments, the Palestinian Law will end up like some Arab regulations, commonly dubbed as laws on blocking access to information.
In addition, AMAN called for avoiding prolonged periods provided by the Draft Law. For example, the Draft Law states that the period to reply to a request for information is 14 working days, which can effectively be extended to at least 20 days. This period is so long for journalists as it disrupts their role in timely dissemination of information, ensuring information is still of general interest. Furthermore, the 30-day period provided to handle a complaint by the Information Commission is unduly lengthy. AMAN suggests that this period should not exceed 15 days. AMAN also called on the Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammed Sthtayyeh, to issue instructions to all public institutions to organise, classify and provide access to public information and records even before the Law on the Right of Access to Information is enacted.