Opening Speech by Sezin Sinanoglu, UNDP Resident Representative:Consultative Meeting on Best Practices and Initiatives of Information Transparency

Dec 24, 2014

Speech by Sezin Sinanoglu, UNDP Resident Representative,

At the Opening of the Consultative Meeting on Best Practices and Initiatives of Information Transparency

24 December 2014

 First of all, thank you to all of you for coming to today’s meeting to discuss the implementation of the Law on Information Transparency and Right to Information.

Access to information and freedom of expression are international human rights norms and as such underpin many human rights declarations and covenants. Article 19 of both the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that the right to freedom of expression includes not only freedom to ‘impart information and ideas of all kinds’, but also freedom to ‘seek’ and ‘receive’ them ‘regardless of frontiers’ and in whatever medium.

Nearly 90 other countries provide legal protection for the right to information. After years of civil society lobbying (notably by Globe International, Open Society Forum among many others) Mongolia's Parliament passed the Law on Information Transparency and Right to information law (R2I) on 16 June 2011 (The effort to pass a law has been under way for about eight years, the first draft was developed in 2003).

Passage of the law received a lot of international praise, including the UN, Freedom House, ARTICLE 19. Mongolia’s scoring on the Freedom House freedom rating increased from 2.0 – to 1.5 (1 – best 2 = worst). It’s rating in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index ranking went up to 83 in 2013, and now to 80 in 2014 – which indicates steady improvements and progress.   

There is a broad consensus of the importance of having a right to information law to enhance transparency and accountability. However, successful implementation of R2I laws requires a strong leadership and political will as well as the establishment of independent and well-resourced oversight institutions, a clear legal framework and appeal mechanisms, training and capacity building of public officials, and awareness raising activities to inform citizens, civil society, the media and companies on how to exercise their right to know. 

The actual impact of R2I laws depends on a series of other measures such as guaranteed freedom of press and association, effective checks and balances mechanisms, including the prosecution and dismissal of public officials found to be involved in corruption, and coherent policy responses to problems detected in service delivery.

Finally, the right to official information is a more narrowly defined concept, which requires specific legislation. We are happy to note that the recently passed Glass Account Law covers most of these.

Mongolia has taken a number of important steps in this regard:

  • Smart Government Initiative which includes many components that improve access to information and provides channels to submit questions, appeals etc;
  • 11-11 Hotline system;
  • And most recently the adoption of the so called Glass Account or Budget Transparency Law which was approved in July this year, the goal of which is to transparently report finances of public organizations so citizens can better oversee use of taxpayers’ money. I am happy that development partners such as the WB and ADB are engaged in this effort.
  • In 2012, there were discussions led by the President’s Office on the Aarhus Convention which promotes access to information on environmental issues as well as appeals and redress mechanisms for their resolution. UNECE is the lead agency and we are keen to cooperate in this area.

While these are all applaudible, there is more that can be done to ensure stronger implementation of the Right to Information Law and to raise awareness about the law among civil servants and citizens so that it can be effectively utilized.

This is also linked to online freedom – an area that needs further deliberation. Just this summer alone you will remember heated discussion around how online information can/cannot be said and how to legally regulate and deal with criminal issues. The topic is a relatively new area all around the world and we are happy to note that the Government and our sister agency UNESCO are looking into this issue and plans to hold an international conference on the same.

The involvement of civil society is key. But as importantly, it is crucial that the media understand the concept and their role in promoting and protecting it. The Freedom of Press law will have a significant impact in this regard.

Even though some important steps have been taken for realizing the goals of the Right to Information Law and global rankings indicate progress, information disclosure is continuous process, and ensuring right to information is not over by putting some information on the website. It requires proactive approach and making use of the information disclosure as the means to engage the public in policy making and in improvement of service delivery, and as the means to resolve the most challenging policy and social issues with participation of the public. For this reason, it is crucial that stronger partnerships be forged with the civil society for monitoring its implementation and systems be instituted to ensure there is no contradiction or duplication among the different legislation and initiatives that have been passed around this topic, especially with the Glass Account Law, where we understand specific chapters (Budget and Procurement) were removed from the Right to Information with the adoption of the Glass Account Law.

We hope that today’s meeting will discuss all these issues that are key for the achievement of the right to information in Mongolia. UNDP has a project with the Parliament “Support to Participatory Legislative Process”. Our goal is to build capacity in the Parliament as well as to ensure systems, mechanisms are instituted to improve law making and contribute to the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). This discussion today comes from that project, on the one hand to demonstrate the importance of consultations with stakeholders on key issues, but also to realize a real debate on a key governance, human rights and anticorruption issue.

I hope you will find the meeting useful and proactive.  

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