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Freedom Of Information Post

Freedom of Information Bill

Freedom of expression might be more effectively used if members of the pubic could have a greater access to information held by public authorities.

Article 12 of our Constitution provides for freedom of expression; one of the fundamental rights most valued by citizens of our democratic nation. However, in recent years, human rights activists worldwide have vehemently argued that the right to openly express opinions and views would work more efficiently if coupled with the right of the public to have access to certain information. In that spirit, the United Kingdom saw the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in 2005, meant for members of the public to be able to access certain information held by public authorities. Although many jurisdictions have adopted a more or less similar legislation to the Freedom of Information Act, Mauritius is still in the process of enacting one.

Freedom of information is a fundamental pillar for good governance and as well as an effective tool against corruption and transparency. At least this was the argument of a member of cabinet on the 22nd January 2016, when trying to pass a Freedom of information bill. The member of cabinet further said that: “Cabinet has taken note that the Freedom of Information Bill, as announced in the Government Programme 2015-2019, is being prepared. A Freedom of Information Act will be brought forward to promote transparency and accountability in public administration…” However all of this begs the following question; “why do we even need a Freedom of information Act”?

Some would argue that information involving government actions are more than readily available either through the publication of parliamentary debates or through questioning; however with no legal drive to compel the relevant authorities to answer those questions, same are more likely to remain conveniently unanswered. In 2009, a major political scandal saw the light of day in the United Kingdom through the requests for information made, using the 2000 Act. Journalists requested for the release of information on the expenses claimed by certain MPs; expenses that the said MPs commented were “wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a Member’s parliamentary duties”. However, the information obtained showed that there was enormous misuse of allowances made to Members of Parliament; Iain Martin wrote that the extraordinary revelations of abuse by some MPs – complete with jaw-dropping details of fraud, fake receipts, claims for ornamental duck houses and moat-cleaning – caused such a sensation that it seemed for a while as though the Palace of Westminster might at any moment be stormed by an army of justifiably irate taxpayers”.

However some find that compliance with the provisions of the Act is too much of a burden; there is an extra load created on the system, and it is feared that the entire process will become as lengthy and backlogged as the judicial system thereby drastically reducing the usefulness of the process.

Finally, it can be seen that Mauritian citizens would certainly benefit from the implementation of legislation similar to the 2000 Act, be it to be more aware of how taxes are used or for journalists to be more informative in their articles. It is further necessary to note that among the variations of the 2000 Act in other jurisdictions, none provides for the absolute right of disclosure of information upon request; information relating to matters of national security for example would definitely not be within the realm of information that the public would need to know. Abraham Lincoln said Let the people be aware of the facts, and the country will be calm”; this is truer now than ever before, with the increasing number of intellectuals inflating our democratic country.