Good news. One of Vanuatu’s leading journalists says the right to information law has contributed to an air of openness in the country.
The Right to Information Act was passed two years ago and will be extended to cover all government departments from August. Over the coming months all departments and agencies will have to give information they hold, if requested.
Dan McGarry of the Vanuatu Daily Post said government bodies have been more forthcoming with information since the law came in. “If we’re having a conversation and we find somebody was not necessarily being forthcoming, it’s useful for us to say ‘so is your department under the RTI already or is it coming?’ or ‘when is it coming?’, just to bring that awareness back into the conversation that information is meant to be available to the public unless there’s a good reason to withhold it. So for that we’re really quite happy and I think the government is to be commended for having enacted this.”
A recent article on the travel expenses of a ministry head would not have been possible without the improved air of openness, he said. “We’ve actually got people within the administrative bodies in government coming forward with this kind of information rather than waiting until we dig it out.”
Mr McGarry said the paper also plans to test out the law with formal requests. “The problem is it is extremely time consuming, it almost necessarily will involve expense and we’re a very limited media organisation.”
The law will be extended to cover not only government departments but also statutory bodies like the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, the National Council of Women and the Ombudsman’s Office.
As a reminder, under the Act, government agencies and relevant private entities are required to “publish and disseminate an initial statement of its organization in each official language,” with the statement to include certain types of listed information, and to update that information every six months. (Id. cl. 6(1) & (2).) In addition, they must “publish all relevant facts, important policies or decisions which affect the public,” provide reasons for certain decisions, and publish information related to tenders and finalized contracts. (Id.cl. 6(3).)
The Act also obligates the government to publish information regarding its functions and activities, including:
(a) laws, rules or guidelines applicable to elections; and
(b) electoral rolls for public inspection; and
(c) the broadcast of sessions of Parliament across Vanuatu; and
(d) transcripts of parliamentary proceedings; and
(e) copies of all Bills and subsidiary legislation; and
(f) terms of reference, submissions and final reports of Parliamentary Committees; and
(g) Court decisions. (Id. cl. 7(1).)