Integrity Watch Afghanistan
A brief on access to information law recently passed by the lower house of Afghan parliament
According to international conventions to which Afghanistan is a signatory and according to Article 50 of the Afghan Constitution, “Right to Know” or “Right of Access to Information” is a fundamental human right for every Afghan citizen. Playing an important role in the fight against corruption, the right to access information increases transparency, accountability, public participation, and paves the way for journalists prepare investigative reports that inform the public.
Afghan civil society organizations began the struggle to advocate for their right to information through a legal framework such as the Access to Information law back in 2010. The draft of the law was prepared but unnecessarily delayed in the Ministry of Justice and then in the Cabinet of Ministers for two years. Finally on 15February 2014, as a result of persistent pressure from civil society and media organizations a committee was assigned by the President to incorporate the amendments discussed by the cabinet and finalize the draft. On 15March 2014 the committee finalized the law and sent it to the parliament for approval.
On June 30 2014, the Lower House passed the long awaited Access to Information Law taking into account some important recommendations from Afghan civil society originations. However, Integrity Watch and other civil society organizations involved in the more than three-year campaign for an access to information law emphasized that the law needs further improvement to meet international standards.
Integrity Watch’s analysis of the draft passed by the Lower House shows that law has many strong points. Integrity Watch compared the law with other laws in the region and we can tell you that it has many strong points such as a clear timeframe for providing information and making it necessary for state entities to establish designated offices to provide information to the public on demand and proactively.
However, the law in its current form has many weaknesses. For instance there has to be a strong and independent commission overseeing access to information in practice and addressing public complaints, the current legislation also does not guarantee an independent mechanism to address public complaints and take action against those limiting public access to information. He called on the Upper House of Parliament to improve the law before sending it to the President for final signing.
Civil society representatives echoed Integrity Watch’s call to improve the law addressing issues related to the independence of the information commission, inclusion of all private and public sector entities that receive public funds under the definition of entities, inclusion of all types of information under the definition of “information”, and dropping the mandatory application form.
Civil society of Afghanistan asks the Upper House to take into account international standards of maximum disclosure, minimum exemptions, easy to use access and complaints procedures and finally clear penalties for officials limiting citizens’ access to information.
ABOUT INTEGRITY WATCH AFGHANISTAN
Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) was founded in October 2005 and established itself as an independent civil society organization in 2006. IWA’s aim is to evolve into a reference actor related to understanding, analyzing and acting for transparency, accountability and anti-corruption issues.
The mission of Integrity Watch Afghanistan is to put corruption under the spotlight by increasing transparency, integrity and accountability in Afghanistan through the provision of policy-oriented research, development of training tools and facilitation of policy dialogue.