THE “sunshine principle” goes like this-expose the government to the sunshine of public scrutiny to kill the germs and disinfect microbes that lead to waste and red tape, abuse of authority, gross misconduct, and graft and corruption.

Senator Grace Poe, chair of the committee on public information, said that the immediate passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill will curb corruption but for it to be strong, the law must have the “presumption of release, clearly defined exemptions, an independent implementing agency, efficiency and timeliness, and strict penalties for non-compliance.”

There's the rub.

The passage of the FOI bill has dilly-dallied with the contention of government officials that there are documents that are ought to be kept from public scrutiny. The Malacanang version of the FOI attempts to balance access to information with the constitutional right to reply and privacy.

Among the concerns raised were on the mandatory posting of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth of public officials, divulging materials that can be a threat to national security and on the provision which will make transcripts of Cabinet meetings available to the public. The contention is on recording the meetings which “will make a Cabinet official think twice about what to say.”

The passage of the FOI bill will provide the substantive and procedural details for the public to be informed. It will force public officials to be accountable for their actions and decisions. Besides, wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air to have thinking public officials for a change?

The foundation of an accountable government is the strong participation of the public who can make informed decisions and can demand accountability from government officials to do what they ought to do represent public interest more than their own.

The primary source of the right to information is to be found in the universally recognized right to expression and this includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

The FOI bill is not about clearly defined exemptions but about full disclosure. It is about government responsibility and accountability to inform and make the public materials and documents readily available to them.

The public can do better than allow government officials to provide grey areas for them to escape responsibility. Government officials are expected to act sensibly than offer lame excuse for the delay in the passage of the FOI bill. It can go beyond the use of the sunshine principle, among other previous pronouncements to illustrate the importance of the bill, towards the immediate passage of the law.


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