A FEW days left for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill which may be considered to be a test of national commitment to transparency and accountability.

The ability of peoples to meaningfully participate in governance is dependent upon the access to information. Most of us may have experienced difficulty in dealing with government institutions, especially in accessing information.

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The Constitution provides the right of access to information. It says: "The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.

Yet, one of the biggest problems facing democratic institutions is the dwindling interest and participation of people fuelled by the sense of helplessness face when relating to institutions of governance.

The proposed Freedom of Information Act seeks to address the absence of the necessary substantive and procedural details for the effective implementation of the people’s right to information as well as of the state policy of full disclosure of government transactions involving public interest.

This is in contrast with the Bill of Rights provision, where the interested party must first request or even demand that s/he be allowed access to documents and papers in the particular agency. The duty to disclose without demand covers only transactions involving public interest, while the duty to allow access has a broader scope of information which embraces not only transactions involving public interest, but any matter contained in official communications and public documents of the government agency.

Unfortunately, there is no enabling law that provides the mechanics for the implementation of the compulsory duty to disclose transactions of public interest without demand under Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution. The bill addresses this by mandating all government agencies to upload on their websites all the steps, negotiations and key government positions pertaining to definite propositions of the government, as well as the contents of the contract, agreement or treaty in a number of enumerated transactions involving public interest.

Almost 10 years ago, the proposed FOI bill was drafted in the hope to change the landscape. Congress goes on recess for the election campaign few days from now and their inaction only serves to strengthen the lack of accountability of public officials. Beyond grandstanding, it should move and enact the bill.

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