By Victoria L. Lemieux
This is an important week: it marks both International Right to Know Week and the week of the United Nations’ summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda.
At this meeting, The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are expected to be adopted. Among these goals is Goal 16, Target 10 – to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.
Inclusion of this target recognizes that incredible progress has been made on the right to know–over one hundred countries worldwide already have made significant progress towards achieving this target and other countries are actively discussing the passage of access to information laws–and that there is still more work to be done.
In parallel with this process, the UN Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) must establish indicators to measure progress on the SDG targets over the next 15 years.
The World Bank has proposed that 16.10 be measured by the level of implementation of legislative guarantees and mechanisms for public access to information, including but not limited to information pertinent to each and all of the Sustainable Development Goals and protection of fundamental freedoms.
This measure recognizes that not only is it important for countries to establish legislative guarantees, for example by passing right to information laws, but that they need to take steps to effectively implement those laws in order to realize the full potential of the laws as pathways to sustainable development.
Implementation of legislative guarantees of public access is not easily measured, but we believe it can be achieved. Most countries with such laws already have enforcement monitoring systems of some kind, even if weak. We believe these monitoring systems can and should be used as a source of data for this indicator.
Through strengthening countries’ own capacity to monitor the operation of their legislative guarantees concerning public access to information, which the World Bank is already supporting in a number of countries and stands ready to continue to support through provision of financial and technical assistance, the SDGs incentivize and support the ultimate aim of capacity building and development within countries.
In addition, use of countries’ own monitoring systems can be tailored to address the different national starting points and priorities associated with implementation of access to information laws. The data supplied by countries can be compared with data from other agencies, including the World Bank, Human Rights Commissions or Information Commissioners, judicial records, civil society statistics and academic research. Indeed, the Bank has developed a core set of indicators on Right to Information Drivers of Effectiveness – the RIDE Indicators – to help with this work.
Legislative guarantees and mechanisms for public access to information are critical to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies. We can and should be helping countries around the world to adopt these legislative guarantees and to build their capacity for effective implementation. Adoption of Goal 16, Target 10 will be the first step, with an important next step being adoption of an indicator that measures implementation progress.
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