With the recent Napoles Pork Barrel PDAF funding scandal in the Philippines, the nation should swiftly adopt Freedom of Information (FOI) to make government and official processes, funding etc., more transparent and accessible to the people.
In the Philippines news recently, Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares presented an initial fact-finding result about enacting and establishing Freedom of Information (FOI).
The consensus of the government she found was that FOI will be detrimental to the national security of the nation. This seems specious as FOI has been successfully applied in many countries such as the US, UK and most of Europe and some Asian nations such as Malaysia.
Not taking up FOI is more of a personal choice rather than a public one.
As below national security is encompassed and protected in FOI legislation.
Most citizens, particularly tax payers would like to know how their government, departments and public bodies are spending budgets allotted to them, particularly for public works, or what they actually do and achieve.
Generally such statistics are not relevant or applicable to national security!?
Hmm.. or does Sen. Poe-Llamanzares and others with a vested interest, think that ‘National Security’ would be compromised by civil unrest/riots if people found out how they are being conned by corrupt officials and despite the Philippines becoming richer, the general populace never see any benefit where it is needed most?
We hope President Aquino will strongly consider introducing FOI after his speech about the PDAF scandal where he stated more transparency is needed!
Below if you like to know is a basic guide to FOI as applied in UK etc.
FOI works in two ways:
- public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and
- members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
Public authorities spend money collected from taxpayers etc., and make decisions that can significantly affect many people’s lives. Access to information helps the public make public authorities accountable for their actions and allows public debate to be better informed and more productive.
Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.
In the UK we have the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which is similar to other countries having FOI.
- everybody has a right to access official information. Disclosure of information should be the default – in other words, information should be kept private only when there is a good reason and it is permitted by the Act;
- an applicant (requester) does not need to give a reason for wanting the information. On the contrary, you must justify refusing them information;
- All requests for information are treated equally, except under some circumstances relating to vexatious requests and personal data .
- The information someone can get under the Act should not be affected by who they are. All requesters should be treated equally, whether they are journalists, local residents, public authority employees, or foreign researchers; and
- because you should treat all requesters equally, you should only disclose information under the Act if you would disclose it to anyone else who asked. In other words, you should consider any information you release under the Act as if it were being released to the world at large.
Sensitive information such as for national security, legal, crime investigation etc, personal data can be exempt if there is good reason, however Governments etc., should not hide behind such if not applicable.
Some sensitive documents are released but are redacted (some content blacked out-covered) if deemed necessary.
An FOI request can be refused under the following circumstances:
- It would cost too much or take too much staff time to deal with the request.( if a straight forward request such as providing statistics or costs, normally there is no fee. However the request is for detailed information that would require research and collation a fee is required).
- The request is vexatious.
- The request repeats a previous request from the same person.
In addition, the Freedom of Information Act contains a number of exemptions that allow you to withhold information from a requester. In some cases it will allow you to refuse to confirm or deny whether you hold information.
Some exemptions relate to a particular type of information, for instance, information relating to government policy. Other exemptions are based on the harm that would arise or would be likely arise from disclosure, for example, if disclosure would be likely to prejudice a criminal investigation, national security or prejudice someone’s commercial interests.
There is also an exemption for personal data if releasing it would be contrary to the Data Protection Act.
Most government official agencies have individuals or section dealing with FOI requests from the public.
In the UK we can make a request(must always written) through letter or email.
Normally there is a set time for the government to reply to a request. in the UK it is 20 working days.
The UK has an Information Commissioner who can intercede with the government etc., if the FOI Act is not being followed correctly.