Commonwealth member States are also far behind many other countries in making proactive commitments for promoting people’s access to information, improving citizen participation in civic processes, implementing the highest standards of professional integrity in the administration and using new technologies for promoting openness and accountability under the global programme of Open Government Partnership. Only Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Malta, South Africa, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago and United Kingdom have drawn up plans of action to achieve these objectives and subjected themselves to the peer review mechanism for assessing their delivery on their commitments.
While access to information is recognised universally as a basic human right, transparency is an indispensable attribute of responsible and accountable government. Ensuring people access to information about laws, policies and financial transactions of governments is the first step towards making democracy participatory, development inclusive and sustainable and charting a collective vision for future generations to live on the planet free from fear and want.
Adequate guidance is now available in the Commonwealth for crafting access legislation in a manner that both protects sensitive information in the public interest and promotes transparency about the routine working of governments and public bodies. While the Commonwealth Secretariat took the lead in developing a model freedom of information early on at the beginning of this century, more comprehensive model access laws based on reasonable norms for disclosure and the maintenance of confidentiality have been crafted in the Americas and Africa in recent years.
These model laws are not only informed by well-known principles of maximum disclosure and minimum exemptions but are also a distillation of the solutions devised by more than 90 countries to provide quick, inexpensive and easy access to information to their peoples. Governments must demonstrate the political will to engender transparency by adopting and implementing strong access legislation instead of merely declaring their pious intentions in public.
In 2011 the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) constituted by the Commonwealth Secretary General to examine options for reform that would bring its institutions into a stronger and more effective framework of co-operation and partnership recognised the absence of a policy for providing access to information held by the Commonwealth Secretariat unlike several other inter-governmental organizations and UN agencies. CHRI calls upon the Commonwealth Secretariat once again to work with representatives of member States and civil society organsitions to put in place a policy that will enable the people of the Commonwealth to access information about the working of the official bodies and agencies of the Commonwealth.