LIMA Peru – Former US President Jimmy Carter congratulated several countries during a conference in Peru’s capital city for developing access to information regimes within the past year
And unlike the recent G-20 summit, this time, the Cayman Islands made it onto what could be called the freedom of information ‘white list.’
‘Half the countries in our region now have access to information laws,’ President Carter said, referring to the Americas and the Caribbean. ‘A number of these, including Guatemala, Chile, Uruguay and the Cayman Islands went into effect just this year.’
The former president noted that, even in China, transparency regimes were beginning to gain a foothold.
‘They’re very proud of the fact that they’ve issued what is in effect an executive order that prescribes greater access to information about public officials in China,’ Mr. Carter said.
However, he cautioned more than 100 attendees selected to participate in the conference last week in Lima not to be overly satisfied with their achievements.
‘One of the greatest obstacles has been insufficient implementation of (FOI) laws that are on the books,’ he said.
Mr. Carter also noted demand for government transparency, while intense among certain circles in society, was still largely relegated to the social elites and media interests.
It’s a concern Carolyn Gomes, the executive director of the group Jamaicans for Justice said has plagued the Caribbean for years.
‘There needs to be demand for the passage of information regimes across the region,’ Mrs. Gomes told the conference Thursday.
According to representatives, Cayman, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are among the few Caribbean countries to have developed and implemented freedom of information laws.
‘There are only six countries in the Caribbean that currently have access to information laws,’ said Cayman’s FOI Coordinator Carole Excell.
Mr. Carter said part of the problem is that different countries will propose and pass laws based on their own specific needs, therefore regional efforts often fail without local interest.
‘Unanimity…usually means the lowest common denominator that people will accept,’ Mr. Carter said. ‘We don’t want to water it down so much…that it becomes meaningless.’
At the conclusion of the three-day conference in Lima, attendees came up with a draft of findings and recommendations that President Carter said he will personally distribute to the leaders of all countries in the Americas, including those that already have freedom of information laws, once the draft is finalised.
‘In every instance when I meet with presidents in this region…they know that access to information is a subject I’ll raise with them,’ he said. ‘A group like (Carter Center conference attendees) can underestimate the impact of what (they) do.
‘I think it would be hard to find a country on Earth now where access to information has not been raised as an issue in some form.’
Among the draft findings/recommendations:
• All countries in the Americas should move further toward open access to information, ideally by establishing right-to-information laws.
• Steps must be taken to protect and enhance freedom of information regimes already in place.
• Once those laws are passed they must be monitored and reviewed to ensure continued effectiveness. Governments should also provide adequate funding and training for FOI efforts.
• Private organizations that have benefited from public funds must increasingly be covered under legal transparency requirements. This includes international financing organizations such as the World Bank.
• Practices of secrecy cause harm to fundamental human rights, and that secrecy can be just as harmful when practiced by non-government entities as well as government agencies.
• Internet technology should be used to further the dissemination of information, but simply placing items on a government website should not substitute for meaningful access to information.