International: Using access to information to combat corruption

International: Using access to information to combat corruption - Transparency

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ARTICLE 19 has published a guide on using access to information to combat corruption, outlining how provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) – Articles 10 and 13 – can be used as a strong basis to continue improving the implementation of the right to access to information (ATI) worldwide. 

The Guide begins with a focus on the role ATI plays in fighting corruption. The first section seeks to present the magnitude of research and models applied in the analytical framework describing causal links between access to information and corruption. The effects of corruption are very much linked to the local contexts where the new laws and regulations promoting the ATI are introduced. The existing theoretical corpus shows us the importance of ATI in promoting transparency and the fight against corruption, but also reminds us of the importance of the general framework of its application and how the institutional environment, routines of the various political, economic, cultural and social actors attenuate or accelerate the changes to be expected. We conclude that the (dis)enabling environment where ATI is introduced is a major determinant for it to be a tool for promoting transparency and reducing corruption, or a lens for the public to see with more clarity how deeply corruption has pervaded their society. 

The second section describes how the advent of the UNCAC and its different mechanisms has impacted the development of ATI legislation in States Parties to the UNCAC and the plethora of resolutions and recommendations that have emerged to strengthen the legal arsenal for fighting corruption in general. These later informed and gave rise to initiatives and expertise focused on specific sectors. 

The subsequent sections of this Guide address several specific initiatives that emerged over the last two decades, attracting diverse constituencies and showing the importance of collaboration between States Parties to the UNCAC and non-governmental groups to improve the implementation and measurement of ATI, and to create synergies in the fight against corruption at the local, regional and international levels. As more and more countries adopt ATI laws with the aim to reduce corruption, it is important to analyse the causal link between increased transparency and the reduction on public sector corruption. A study showed that in India, the adoption of a right to information Act that by extension helped increase local participation improved underprivileged citizens’ access to public goods and decreases corruption. However, we need to keep in mind that the adoption of legislation is not sufficient on its own. There is also a need for greater media freedom, free and fair elections and a dynamic civil society to hold governments to account. 

The Guide identifies several general ATI measures to be considered and supported when the political will exists. Policy can only thrive if the environment enables it to. ATI cannot be a sustainable tool in the fight against corruption if no one can effectively and actively use that information. These measures can be supported by specific professions and activists and take time and resources to bear fruits (e.g. investigative journalism). Civil society and a strong independent media are key in the fight against corruption as they are the ones that will wield the access to information policies to hold governments to account. 

That discussion is concluded by a brief section on the way forward in terms of the necessary inclusive partnerships to attract civic forces and improve citizen engagement in the fight against corruption. Collaborative efforts should improve the results of these initiatives and avoid duplication, especially given the scarcity of resources. This highlights the importance of the inclusion of access to information provisions in the UNCAC. Article 10 of the UNCAC reiterates the importance of public reporting, which helps strengthen the public’s trust in institutions as it facilitates the average citizen’s access to official decision-making processes. Article 10 is complemented by Article 13, which requires States to take measures to promote citizen participation. They need to be proactively engaging in anti-corruption efforts and not engage in practices that hinder the functioning of civil society or the freedom of the media. Initiatives such as the development of the ‘Transparency Pledge’ and the Conference of the States parties Resolutions help promote the importance of ATI at the international level. However, the initiatives also have their limits. In the case of the UNCAC’s Implementation Review Mechanism (IRM), a peer review process that contributes to the monitoring of States Parties’ effective implementation of the UNCAC, there is no obligation for the States Parties to publish the full country report following the review. The UNCAC Coalition’s Access to Information campaign showed that while several freedom of information requests were sent by civil society to States requesting access to the review documents, many went unanswered. This public participation wielded some results, as some States did ultimately publish the information showing that these types of initiatives can help increase transparency. Articles 10 and 13 of the UNCAC do lay out the role that States have in increasing transparency but really highlight that the role of other actors is equally needed if the UNCAC wishes to achieve its goals. 

The Guide concludes that States cannot improve the implementation of ATI alone. A multi-stakeholder approach is necessary and has proven to be the most effective. Many multi-stakeholder initiatives already exist to support anti-corruption work. For example, the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (FACTI Panel) and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) were created to fight corruption at an international level by identifying the gaps in national legal frameworks and, when necessary, exert peer pressure on its members to prompt institutional reforms. This goes hand in hand with ATI’s key role of increasing the disclosure of public information, whether that be through the publication of audits or increasing the use of open data. 

ARTICLE 19 looks forward to informing the foundation for the development and implementation of a proper corruption risk mitigation strategy that encompasses human rights and anti-corruption efforts in the global effort to meet the objectives and goals of the 2030 Agenda. Ultimately, Articles 10 and 13 of the UNCAC could be used as a driving force to increase public participation and transparency while fighting corruption. 

Summary of recommendations 

  1. Ensure an effective right of access to information: All States Parties to the UNCAC should adopt comprehensive access to information legislation and ensure its effective implementation to enable citizens, civil society organisations (CSOs), journalists and other key actors.
  2. Assert the importance of political will and leadership on ATI within the public sector: Willingness of high-level political authorities in the public administration to advance with reforms, such as the adoption and implementation of ATI, is important, and its absence can be considered a substantial obstacle.
  3. Strengthen the capacity building of public information officers: There are many ways to support employees in their work to effectively apply ATI laws.
  4. Recognise that ATI is key for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): States with existing ATI laws should conduct a multi-stakeholder review to identify the existing gaps in legislation and the availability of key SDG-related information and work together with all stakeholders to improve the legal framework and coordinate efforts to improve its implementation. 
  5. Ensure public access to information for corruption settlement: As described in this Guide, access to public information is crucial to increase the level of trust in the public sector.
  6. Advocate for the publication of accounting and financial information on a country- by-country basis.
  7. Governments and other stakeholders should increase the publication of open data to be more inclusive and improve access and quality of service delivery, especially for vulnerable groups; open data should be more developed and generalised.
  8. Establish an independent National Monitoring of ATI implementation: Governments should enable an independent oversight body with the political and financial autonomy needed to accomplish its role of monitoring and supporting the ATI implementation at all levels and support all public bodies to enforce the legislation and inspire good practice.
  9. Increase Government Engagement with Civil Society: Governments should engage new approaches in their ways of interacting with civil society and citizens, and they should be inclusive and respect diversity.
  10. Include more Stakeholders: The inclusion of key stakeholders is important to identify information of general interest and to support proactive disclosure.
  11. Improve civic space and protect journalists, whistleblowers, and anti-corruption activists: The generalisation of RTI and the effective promotion of the SDGs by targeting the most vulnerable groups cannot be achieved without taking into consideration existing and emerging threats in many regions of the world.
  12. Increase donor coordination and access to information in their programmes: The SDGs provide a general framework that should help international actors and donors identify clearly and in detail the local needs and share information about their activities and their objectives so other stakeholders can know where to invest and how to avoid cross effects and rapid changes in priorities.
  13. Multi-Stakeholder Platforms and benchmarking for promoting ATI: International organisations and global actors can support initiatives and collective action by CSOs and citizens to improve the implementation of ATI and the realisation of the SDGs.

Read and download the Guide