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Public Information Still Hard to Get, Five Country Survey Finds
 
Access to public information is increasing worldwide, but many countries are lagging far behind, said a new study. The pilot survey monitoring freedom of information was released by the Open Society Justice Initiative on September 28, 2004 designated "Right to Know Day" by global FOI groups. Conducted in Armenia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Peru and South Africa, the survey marks one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to test the limits of government transparency. On average only 35 percent of requests for information were fulfilled. Many requests not explicitly rejected were simply ignored.

"New access to information laws in many countries provide a strong foundation for transparency of public bodies, but still fall short of what can fairly be termed open government," said James Goldston, Executive Director of the Justice Initiative. "In just over a decade, more than 40 countries worldwide have adopted freedom of information laws. This study shows that, even once a law is adopted, effective implementation remains a major challenge."

Interviews with government officials revealed a number of common obstacles in enforcing FOI laws. These include a lack of political will at senior levels to encourage transparency, inadequate information management, insufficient training of public officials, and an excess of bureaucratic obstacles to timely information release. In some countries it proved near impossible to submit requests for information orally or without filling out an official form. Persons belonging to vulnerable or excluded groups, such as disabled individuals or ethnic minorities, were less likely to receive positive reactions than journalists or NGOs submitting the same requests.

A surprise result was that short timeframes for official responses, far from posing an obstacle to information release as some feared, appear to improve the chances of positive reactions. Peru, the country with the highest rating of the five, also permits the least time to officials to respond: seven working days.

Open Society Justice Initiative, Press Release, September 28, 2004
Also see: Monitoring Tool: Introduction and FOI Standards (336K) and Pilot Report: Executive Summary and Recommendations (55K)
 
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