Are you aware of any legislation on access to data in your country? Have you ever made use of it?

In November 2010 Guinea adopted the legislation on the right to access public information (c.f: http://www.africafoicentre.org/index.php/foi-laws/99-guinee-ati-law-fr/file). The adoption of the law was the result of many years discussions to recognize the public’s right to access governmental documents.

This law is based on the principle of transparency, which provide enabling environment for greater accountability and greater responsiveness on the government to the citizens. The rational of this law was to make changes to public institutions including the parliament, which would have long-run benefits for the country’s nascent democracy.

The law provided a legal framework and an action plan:

  • To promote the participation of citizens in decision making and transparency by allowing them general right to access information held by governmental organizations, and by giving them right to access documents information related to them.
  • To organize procedures for exercising the right of access to information
  • To Encourage the development of strong national expertise in information public
  • To establish a presumption in favor of disclosure

However this law has some limitations. In fact, it does not require the government the duty to process applications in a timely, responsible and complete manner. Nor the government clarifies the recourse available to individuals and organizations when they believe their rights of access to information was not respected.

To me this law should be more developed and known by the citizens. In fact, it I would suggest that it contains in addition to the right of access, the right to informaton, the right of opposition, the right of correction, and the right of obilivion.

The right to object would provide that everyone has the opportunity to object, for legitimate reasons, to be included in a file.

The right of access would give anyone with the possibility to examine all data relating to him and may request a copy of which the cost will not exceed that of reproduction.

The right of correction would provide any person establishing his identity the possibility to require the data controller that personal data concerning them which are inaccurate, incomplete, misleading, outdated be rectified, completed, updated, locked or deleted.

Finally the right of oblivion would give any person whose personal information is collected the right to be forgotten. His/her data should not be retained beyond a certain length. This period must not exceed “the duration necessary for the purposes for which they were collected and processed.

Five years later, it is really difficult to draw any rational conclusion as the government did not design monitoring and evaluation procedures. Moreover in most of the public organizations the processes of accessing the information are either not clear or not know to the citizens. Even for the citizens who would know such rights, the archives, if they exist, are hardly exploitable.

On paper we could think that the law would distinguish itself as an essential part of a vibrant democratic society. It would incitate citizens to participate meaningfully in the democratic process, to exercise their right to know and to require the government accountable.

I personally believe that access to information underlies many of the rights and freedoms that we hold closest to our heart and which are among the most notorious, or freedom of expression, freedom of press, the right to vote and rights procedural criminal. However, in the case of my country this information is barely available. Though the law was adopted many government officers still feel that all the information are confidential. For example, it is almost impossible to get information on current infrastructure projects, even the pricing of services in public hospital are not available to the public. The government has not yet put the development of knowledge society into its priority, even e-government which would facilitate the sharing of information of governmental organization would be a great improvement.

The availability of data and Information to the public is essential to draw visions and development objectives for any organizations (public and private).
For example, most international organizations defending human rights today consider access to information as a fundamental human right. Trade associations often highlight the robust laws on access to information can stimulate competition, efficiency and innovation by facilitating the flow of information between government and industry. According to a growing number of advocates of participatory democracy, effective laws on access to information are essential because they allow ordinary citizens to influence the activities of public bodies, and in the public interest.

In most of developing countries the adoption of laws is not enough to rectify the trend. In fact, in most of the cases the laws are adopted then put into oblivion. Moreover the importance of achieving data and information is not understood by the citizens, even the private organizations. That could be the reason they are not very competitive in local and global markets. Therefore, the government is not the only actor to be “blamed” but all or most of the components of the society including the individuals.

With the development of Information Technologies I believe that if the government is lacking behind, the citizens can be the enablers by investing resources on developing private repositories of data and information. We might not be able to ignore the government but individuals(or private organizations) can start compiling and organizing the little existing public data and information, and spread them to the citizens. – Yagouba Traoré, Canada.

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