South Sudan: Right of Access to Information Bill
21 Aug 2012
In August 2012, ARTICLE 19 analysed the Draft Right to Access Information Bill No. 54, 2012 (“the Draft Bill”) of South Sudan, which is currently under consideration by the Council of Ministers. This analysis focuses on the extent to which the Draft Bill complies with international standards on the right of access to information.
ARTICLE 19 welcomes the initiative of the Government of South Sudan to create a legal framework for the implementation of the right to access information. The Draft Bill positively enshrines a number of progressive principles on the right of access to information. This includes the duty to disclose information stemming not from public ownership but from its public functions, the right to seek information from private bodies, a clear and simple procedure for accessing information, a comprehensive proactive disclosure regime, public accountability for information officers, the protection of whistleblowers and the creation of criminal offences to reinforce the right of access to information. With the adoption of the Bill, South Sudan would also join ten countries in Africa that have national freedom of Information laws, namely Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea-Conakry, Liberia, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe
At the same time, the Draft Bill still contains several areas of concern, which ARTICLE 19 strongly urges the government to amend before enactment. In particular, ARTICLE 19 recommends the following changes:
- The Draft Bill and the principles of access to information it advances should take precedence above all other legislation.
- Everyone, not just citizens of South Sudan, should be entitled to access information under the Bill.
- Fees for provision of information should be limited to the reasonable reproduction costs of providing the information.
- The legitimate grounds for refusing disclosure of information should only be invoked where disclosure of the information poses an actual risk of substantial harm to that interest, subject to the public interest override.
- The right of all individuals to access information held by public and private bodies about themselves, and the right to correct that information, should be included in the Draft Bill.
- Public bodies should be required to proactively disclose contracts they have entered into above a specified sum, and their budget and expenditure plans.
- A standardised procedure for a first stage of review internal to the public body should be specified in the Draft Bill.
- The nominations and selection of the Information Commissioner should be made by a cross-party Parliamentary committee, and should not involve the President or the Ministry. Civil society and other representatives of the general public should be given the power and opportunity to nominate individuals to the post of Information Commissioner.
- Removal of the Information Commissioner from office should only be premised on serious violations of the constitution, gross misconduct, physical or mental incapacity to perform the functions of office, incompetence or bankruptcy. The Assembly must initiate and oversee any removal process.
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