Good government means accountable government. But how do you hold a government to account when you can’t even find out what it’s doing?
Lack of transparency and accountability also allows corruption to thrive, so making the business of government open to scrutiny by the public isn’t just good for democracy – it’s good for the economy too.
That’s why access to information or ATI is an essential driver of sustainable development and is one of the key principles underpinning the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights. To highlight this, International Right to Know Day was initiated in 2002 in Sofia, Bulgaria and is now celebrated every year on Sept. 28. From a small initiative, it has become a global event recognized and acknowledged all over the world. Nowadays, nearly one hundred countries are committed to providing access to public information.
Ukraine joined the Open Governance Partnership in 2011 and adopted a law on access to public information – an essential step towards the development of transparent and accountable government, countering corruption and ensuring progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Ukraine. Access to information held by the public authorities is essential for transparency, governmental accountability, and participatory decision making.
And in 2019, for the second time, Ukraine along with another 10 countries (Canada, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Serbia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, and Tunisia) joined in an assessment on the implementation of SDG Indicator 16.10.2 conducted by the Freedom of Information Advocates FOIAnet. As part of SDG 16, target 16.10 aims to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in line with national legislation and international agreements.
The assessment identified the tangible progress Ukraine has made between 2011 and 2019, including strengthening anticorruption activities, which have contributed to transparent and democratic governance. The assessment also identified some challenges Ukraine needs to address to transform the results achieved into sustainable success.
Three ways to improve access to information:
· Introduce an effective and rapid mechanism for protecting the right to information. Currently, Ukraine lacks a mechanism to effectively and rapidly address violations of the right to know. The Ombudsperson Office – the institution that oversees the issue of access to information – does not currently provide a rapid response to violations of the right of access to information. This is due to both the imperfect procedure for holding violators to account, and the lack of resources and powers of the controlling body. There is a need to introduce an institution able to exercise effective oversight and protection of the right to information in a way accessible to everyone.
· Set up a state body in charge of the development and implementation of state policy in the area of ATI to ensure the right to know. Such an institution is necessary to conduct a systematic analysis of existing problems in the area of ATI, and to measure and assess measures that could improve access to information. The establishment of such an institution would help to ensure sustainable results in the area of ATI.
· Create a unified training program for information holders. The state authorities need specialized staff – people well-familiar with the rules for providing information, both procedural and substantive. Currently, the Ombudsperson Office and civil society organizations contribute massively to training civil servants. However, the various curricula have to be synchronized, coordinated, and integrated into the civil servants' assessment system. Without proper training, civil servants are not able to properly meet their responsibilities to provide access to information. The result for society is that requests for information of great public importance (such as information about corruption among civil servants, for example) receive formal refusals.
By addressing these three issues and following recommendations, Ukraine could achieve significant progress in making public institutions more transparent and accountable, as well as contribute to the implementation of the Agenda 2030.
The “Human Rights for Ukraine” (HR4U) project is being implemented by UNDP Ukraine with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. The project is being implemented to foster inclusive and sustainable human development in Ukraine and to further promote ongoing democratization processes in the country, focusing on human rights and access to justice for all. Through the project, UNDP is continuing to prioritize its work with key national partners and stakeholders, such as the National Human Rights Institution, national and local authorities, civil society, and human rights defenders, joining efforts to promote human rights across Ukraine and improve access to justice, especially for vulnerable groups. Launched in January 2019, the project will run until the end of 2023.