• 04 April 2019

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    Posteado en : Entrevista

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    “Access to information has a positive impact on everyone, including vulnerable groups”

    We interviewed Pansy Tlakula, the High Commissioner in South Africa for the right of access to information, during the International Conference of Commissioners on Access to Information, in which EUROsociAL+ also participated.

    How important is the right of access to public information for human rights and democracy?

     

    Access to information is the key to enjoying other rights. You cannot enjoy social and economic rights without the right of access to information; and, moreover, it is also important for the right to vote. For all these reasons, it is fundamental to the human rights system.

     

    From the historical point of view, what has been the importance of this right for South African citizens?

     

    In this case, it is important to bear in mind the country’s sad history with apartheid and racial segregation. That is why, in 1994, when the people became free, one of the first things done was to make sure that the “culture of secrecy” ended. One of the first laws we adopted after gaining freedom promoted access to information.

     

    Can we highlight any relevant cases relating to public information that have been historically important in South Africa?

     

    I think the most important case in this regard occurred last year. Several civil society organisations had asked the political parties to disclose the source of their funding and, initially, they refused. Then, an organisation called Right2Know took the case to court, which determined that the right of access to information is fundamental to the right to vote. In order for citizens to exercise the right to vote, they must be able to access information about the financing of political parties.

     

    EUROsociAL+, the programme financed by the European Union and managed by FIIAPP, has presented its experience in supporting the Transparency Network in Latin America (RTA) at the conference. In Africa, there is a plan to create a similar network. How do you think the creation of a similar network on the continent would be beneficial?

     

    I think the network is very important and the collaboration between countries in Africa and Latin America is significant because it is South-South cooperation. For example, these past couple of days, when we held our first meeting on establishing the African Network of Information Commissioners, our colleagues from the Latin American network explained how they had established their network.

     

    Let’s talk about gender and the right of access to information: How important is this right for women in South Africa and throughout Africa?

     

    I think it is very important for women throughout the world, for example, if we look at the rights related to reproductive and sexual health; in this case, women and girls cannot benefit from these rights if they do not have enough information. If they knew about it, they would be able to face the specific health challenges that these issues entail.

     

    And some of them can be easily resolved by giving women access to information, so this year, at the International Conference of Commissioners on Access to Information, we gave a presentation on the importance of access to information for vulnerable groups: on how this impacts women and people with disabilities. Personally, I believe that access to information has a positive impact on everyone, including vulnerable groups.

  • 07 February 2019

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    Posteado en : Entrevista

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    “If the media play their role, citizens will be able to force our leaders to be accountable”

    Shamima Muslim, ARAP project specialist, reflects in this interview on the role of the media when they raise issues of corruption, particularly in the case of Ghana

    As a media worker and specialist on the ARAP project (Ghana’s Accountability, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme), funded by the European Union and managed by FIIAPP, do you think that the media address the issue of corruption?

     

    We have been reflecting on this since I started in the media in 2008. Even before that, corruption has always been a key issue, especially at election time.  All politicians and political parties who campaign and come to power always have it in the spotlight, they fight against corruption in their public speeches and insist on the need to be accountable. So we recognise that it exists.

    And do you think that the media is sensitive to corruption? 

     

    We have not given our best. Well, maybe we have given our best, but the best has not been enough. Since the media is a news industry, when a big new corruption issue appears, everything is immediately told, but then people go on with their lives and their problems and they have already forgotten by the following news story. I think we have to develop a culture that is slightly different from the culture of the cursor and Google, which is what we have been doing.

     

    So, do you think that the media should play a more active and permanent role in corruption issues?

     

    The media have to do more than they are doing right now because both the media and the people who work in them should be the eyes of society.

     

    The mass media is a powerful tool for socialisation. If we use them efficiently, we will make citizens aware of many things: cases of fraud, theft, contract inflation, etc., all of the issues that reduce public resources and prevent State players from making the proper investments in social services.

     

    But we need support, for example, by targeting certain key influencers in the media and making them part of this process of holding leaders accountable. Newscasters who present the morning magazine programme, professionals who do night programmes, professionals who give the news, etc. You need them to be part of the process. And so we get an ally who has the power of the microphone and who is able to ask the important questions, thanks to the point of view they have acquired.

     

    What role can social media play in this awareness?

     

    Information, information, information. Social networks are the future, but we must also remember that not everyone is on them. Internet access is still very expensive in most of Africa and virtually non-existent in some communities. So maybe you are not able to use social networks for an appropriate general mobilisation of society, of citizens, from different economic strata. Especially if you want general collective action.

     

    But even so, social networks are very useful:  we have seen what has happened in Ghana. We have seen campaigns on social networks that have forced the Government to change certain policies. When the government wants to introduce a new policy and we say it’s a bad idea … There was a case where the government said, “If you do not pay for your television licence, you will have to go to court. All this brought a great public uproar: it was a campaign organised purely on social networks. Influencers and young people on social media protested and protested. In a few hours, or a day or two, it was announced that this policy was not going to be implemented.

     

    So social networks are a powerful tool to mobilise a certain group of people who share the same ideas, who are a little more informed. There are some people who are influencers on social networks and who, when they open discussions on their walls, generate arguments.

     

    What do citizens achieve with all this?

     

    If the media play their role, we, the citizens, will be able to force our leaders to be accountable, because they know that the media will always be watching them until things are done well.

  • 13 April 2018

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    Posteado en : Reportage

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    Who has authority to combat corruption?

    The Ghana-ARAP Project relies on institutions to get the public involved. According to Transparency International, sub-Saharan Africa is the worst–rated region in this respect

    “Having to pay for a service we have a right to receive – do you think that is corruption?” Barbara Mensah asks the people of Ghana, referring to one of the most burning questions of our time. She is one of the Civic Education Officers responsable for investigating perceptions of corruption in Ghana.

     

    “I am going to ask about certain practices, you tell me if you think they are corrupt” was the question put by another of these officers, Jafaru Omar. Through a questionnaire, officers appointed by Ghana’s National Commission for Civic Eduction (NCCE) survey the views of citizens in different parts of the country.

     

    On the ground, the findings are already clear: of the 8672 responses, over half those surveyed (58.4%) have been witnesses to some form of corruption.  Henrrieta Assante-Sharpong, in charge of the investigation, says: “the findings show that although Ghanaians are aware of corruption, they have very little knowledge of the various ways it may be practised.”

     

    The NCCE was set up for the purpose of increasing public awareness: “Our lives are going backwards.  We don’t have roads, there is no electricity. The money gained from corruption could have been used for these services”, says Aluliga Malpang, a farmer from the Tengzuk Community.  Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst-rated region for  corruption, according to the most recent report from Transparency International.

     

    Cooperation in a hostile climate

     

    The report on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) rates 180 countries and territories according to perceived levels of corruption in the public sector, using a scale of zero to 100, where zero is extremely corrupt and 100 highly transparent.

    New Zealand and Denmark are highest-placed in 2017, with scores of 89 and 88 respectively. Syria, South Sudan and Somalia have the lowest scores, with 14, 12 and 9 respectively. Ghana is in 81st place, with 40 points – a score above the average for the sub-Saharan region (32 points).

     

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    Nevertheless, the study shows that over two-thirds of countries had scores below 50. Transparency International works internationally and locally in over 100 countries in the world: “giving a voice to the victims of corruption, working with governments, undertakings and citizens to stop the abuse of power or bribery”. It states that most  countries are making little or no progress in putting an end to corruption.

     

    Ghana does not want to be in that category. Its initiative is part of the Anti-Corruption, Rule of Law and Accountability” programme.  It is a project in support of transparency, with the aim of reducing corruption and improving accountability in the African country. For four and a half years, FIIAPP has been managing this programme, financed by the  European Union, in collaboration with GIZ (Germany) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

     

    “I want to help solve the corruption problem”, said Joseph Samuel Bebefiankom, a student in Kwashieman (Accra). Like him, other citizens say “it could be reduced, cut back”, “that will provide jobs for a lot of people”  “it will help the country to develop.”  They know what they want to achieve, but not how to achieve it.

     

    A number of Ghanaian public institutions such as the NCCE, in collaboration with FIIAPP, have designed a strategy to involve the public, as well as others, in the struggle against corruption.  One of the priorities of Ghana-ARAP is to raise their awareness of the importance of reporting it.

     

    The more leaders that get involved, the less corruption there will be

     

    The África no es un país [‘Africa is not one country’] blog reminds us, in the same report, that “2017 has seen the fall of a number of rulers accused of encouraging corruption”: Yahya Jammeh in Gambia, José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and, already in 2018, Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

     

    George Obeng Obei is another Civic Education Officer.  He says “people without much education don’t know how things are done in assemblies and in institutions. But they do believe there are elements of corruption in them”, Not knowing how it works doesn’t mean they don’t see it. They know, they are aware, according to Obeng Obei, that you can only get things with money. And this mindset has to be changed.

     

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    ARAP Ghana workshop

     

    According to Transparency International, it is the right time to “redefine” the problem in Africa, as, in some cases, the CPI points to a “hopeful future” for the continent.  In spite of being the worst region overall, some countries have made significant progress, such as Botswana (61), which has a higher rating than Spain (59).

     

    The key, according to the organisation, is that these countries have “a political leader committed to fighting corruption.” That is why they go further in  developing laws and institutions in this regard. Ghana is making efforts in this direction, and its government has introduced a National Anti-corruption Action Plan (NACAP) to steer the project.

     

    If the public at large also gets involved, success will be one step closer.  The president of the NCCE, Josephine Nkrumah, knows this.  She assesses the investigation conducted in the country: “NCCE will use this report to create civic education actions. To win the battle, we have to get both the public and the private sector involved. And what is even more important is getting every Ghanaian man and woman involved.”

     

    Winning the fight against corruption” is the African Union (AU)’s motto for 2018. This phrase could be said to apply to almost the whole world. It stems from the premise that “corruption rewards those who disobey the rules, destroying all the endeavours of constructive, just and equitable governance”.

     

    The areas  investigated in Ghana are shown in this video:

  • 19 October 2017

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    Posteado en : Opinion

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    Open Government, Open State

    Today, when corruption has become an endemic evil, we need more than ever to bring the country's institutions closer to its citizens, its legitimate creditors

    Today, when corruption has become an endemic evil that directly affects the democratic quality of our societies, we need more than ever to bring the country’s institutions closer to its citizens, its legitimate creditors. One thing that contributes to closing the gap between the public authorities and the public is undoubtedly promoting a culture of transparency and accountability to bring back the public’s trust in the public administrations.

     

    An interesting initiative along these lines is the Open Government Partnership (OGP) a multilateral initiative involving 69 countries, including Spain and Colombia, that seeks to improve government performance, promote the effective participation of civil society and improve the responsiveness of governments to their citizens.

     

    Each member state of the OGP undertakes to implement multi-year Action Plans that are applicable across the board to their institutions and, in particular, to government powers.

     

    Colombia has demonstrated its commitment to transparency by moving from an “Open Government” to an “Open State” perspective, by including the Judiciary in this initiative. ACTUE Colombia has spent three years working on this initiative in Colombia, giving support to the coordinating body, the Transparency Secretariat, including strengthening the technical capacities of civil society so that they can maintain an effective dialogue with the Colombian government.

     

    The OGP Action Plans are designed to be built with the participation of the different public administrations (General State, Regional and Local Administrations,) and civil society, in which the participation of the public plays an essential role in the development and success of the Partnership.

     

    Spain, which has been a member of the OGP since 2011, has implemented two Action Plans to date, for which civil society demanded more transparency and participation. These demands were included by the National Court in a recent ruling (NCR 3357/2017) in which it recognised the Right of Access of the organisation Access Info Europe, citing for this the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR 8.11.16 and 25.06.13), which understands this to be a fundamental right that merits a special sphere of protection, so that although in this country the right of access to information has not been recognised as being a fundamental right, in current practice we can speak of a promising situation in this regard.

     

    Similarly, the 3rd Open Government Plan, launched in June this year for the period 2017-19, introduced significant improvements, as recommended by the Partnership’s Independent Review Mechanism (Cooperation, Participation, Transparency, Accountability and Education). It includes proposals from the territorial administrations and ministries, as well as the participation of the public through the public information tool, whereby any citizen can present proposals via the transparency website and monitor all the stages of the 3rd Plan.

     

    A planned new feature will set up a Multi-Sector Forum with representatives from academia, civil society and the public administrations to monitor the 3rd Plan.

     

    Although there is still much to be done to achieve an open state, it seems clear that we are facing a paradigm shift in public policy building in which Access to Information and Transparency, Education in a culture of integrity and progress towards a government in line with these are key elements in making the public an active participant in public decision-making processes and policy building and in contributing to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our institutions.

     

    Carolina Dí­az is a Legal Technician for the European Union Anti-Corruption and Transparency Project for Colombia (ACTUE Colombia)

  • 28 September 2017

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    Posteado en : Reportage

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    Ghana’s winding path towards Transparency and Anti-corruption

    To date Ghana does not have a Freedom of Information law but it has made some positive strides to ensure transparency and accountability

    In the past years, Ghana has made some positive strides to ensure transparency and accountability within its governance reforms. Some concrete commitments include the development and roll out of a 10 year National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP) as well joining in 2011 the Open Government Partnership.

     

    As part of these efforts, there is also the five-year EU funded Accountability, Rule of law and Anti-corruption Programme (ARAP) currently implemented by FIIAPP.  The objective of the programme is to contribute to current reform processes to reduce corruption and improve accountability, and compliance with the rule of law, particularly when it comes to accountability, anti-corruption and environmental governance. It does so through support key institutions, while at the same time increasing the ability of the public, civil society organizations and the media to hold government to account.

     

    On one hand the programme works with state institutions to improve and strengthen the services to report, prosecute and adjudicate corruption cases. On the other, it strengthens state institutions, civil society and the media to create the conditions for citizens to demand accountability from the government and report corruption cases.

     

    Against this backdrop, access to information is a critical stepping stone for anyone who wishes to hold the government to account. It is no surprise therefore that access to information has become a cornerstone of good governance and an important anti-corruption tool. Information is fundamental to make informed decisions. Information is also power. Where it is not freely accessible, corruption can thrive and basic rights might not be realised. People can hide corrupt acts behind a veil of secrecy. Those with privileged access to information can demand bribes from others also seeking it.

     

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    ARAP contributes to current reform processes to reduce corruption and improve accountability in Ghana

     

    Today, 28th of September, is the International Day for Universal Access to Information. Citizens and organizations across the world call on their leaders today to act upon the fundamental premise that all information held by governments and governmental institutions is in principle public and may only be withheld if there are legitimate reasons, such as typically privacy and security, for not disclosing it.

     

    The International Day for Universal Access to Information was declared just over two years ago by UNESCO. Not many know however that this UN initiative has its roots in Africa, and is an outcome of advocacy of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI).  This is a concerted effort to remind us all – regardless of our job and daily life – that accessing information held by government officials and institutions is a fundamental human right established under international Law, covered by Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights  and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

     

    Over the past 10 years, the right to information has been recognized by an increasing number of countries, through the adoption of a wave of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. In 1990, only 13 countries had adopted national FOI laws, whereas there are currently more than 90 such laws adopted across the world.

     

    To date Ghana does not have a Freedom of Information law, despite it has been debated in the country for almost 20 years: the actual bill being drafted in 1999 and then reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and is currently in Parliament. There are however, positive signs from the government affirming that the bill will be approved in the coming year together with the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Corruption.

     

    Riccardo D’Emidio, Civic Education Expert – Accountability, Rule of law and Anti-corruption Programme (ARAP) 

  • 31 August 2017

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    Posteado en : Reportage

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    Comprehensive commitment to transparency in Colombia

    The ACTUE-Colombia project seeks to strengthen transparency and integrity in the Colombian public and privates sectors and in civil society

    Colombia drags behind it the tragic figure of 218 thousand deaths and nearly six million displaced persons, all attributable to an armed conflict that lasted for over fifty years. A conflict that assails Colombian society at all levels, where one of the major factors responsible for the perpetuation of this context of violence has been corruption.

    Today Colombia is looking forward, placing all its hopes on an arduous peace process that must take into account all stakeholders in society. A key piece in advancing in this peace process is the commitment to transparency and prevention of corruption in both the country’s public institutions and private entities.

    Along these lines, the ACTUE-Colombia project was launched in 2014 as a response of the European Union to a request from the Colombian government for strengthening and implementation of public policies aimed at fighting corruption. This is a project funded by the European Union and managed by FIIAPP that works hand in hand with various Colombian public institutions, such as the Secretariat of Transparency, the Civil Service Department, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Mines, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Council of State, as the representative of the judiciary, among others.

    This project seeks to create a comprehensive approach in corruption prevention that will work from four strategic areas with special impact in the country:

    Public Integrity and Open Government: Creation of an open and transparent government through instruments such as the transparency and access to public information law, accountability, citizen participation, public ethics, whistleblower protection, among others. As expressed by Liliana Caballero, director of the Civil Service Administration Department, “for the government it is very important that citizens trust the State and the employees of public administrations, and citizens should have the security that they have access to all the information, that there is no longer any secrecy in any proceedings, in the budgets”. 

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    Sectoral Action: to foster integrity and transparency, it is also necessary to act in specific sectors such as judicial bodies, health, the extractive industries and a culture of integrity. 

     

      • Colombia’s Council of State is working to promote transparency, accountability and judicial ethics. To serve as a precedent, the Council of State on 29 June held a public hearing for accountability, which was the first time a judicial body had ever organised an accountability event in the country.

     

      • The extractive industry is one of the most important economic sectors in Colombia; in 2015 the extractive industry was responsible for 7.2% of the country’s GDP, and therefore it is important to keep this economic activity clear of networks of corruption. To accomplish this, implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) throughout the country is being incentivised, and there are currently commitments to implement this initiative by the 16 leading extractive companies in Colombia, which represent 80% of mining production.

     

      • In the health sector, ACTUE-Colombia has been supporting what some call “radical transparency” in the country’s pharmaceutical policy, with a view not only to guaranteeing right of use and access to a quality and transparent service but also to recovering citizens’ trust in the sector. To assure these objectives, initiatives have been developed that involve various stakeholders and donors, such as the Decalogue for Transparency and Integrity in the health sector, and tools for access to information have been implemented, such as the Medicamentos a un Clic [One-click Medicines], a web platform for health professionals, and the Termómetro de Precios de Medicamentos [Medicine Price Thermometer], among others.

     

      • Additionally, ACTUE-Colombia supports the commitment of the national government to promoting a cultural change, as there is wide recognition that the laws are important but insufficient. Along these lines, the Pedagogic Routes for Promotion of Transparency, Integrity and Safeguarding the Public Good have been implemented with the aim of raising awareness in school and university classrooms and in public institutions of their role in this cultural change in personal and institutional conduct.

     

    Citizen participation and the private sector: Both citizens and businesses are key players in the fight against corruption. To create a healthy, upstanding and aware society, it is necessary for them to be participants in the cultural, institutional and regulatory changes.

     

    • To promote the shared responsibility of business owners in the prevention of corruption, continuity has been given to initiatives that promote business ethics, self-regulation, bribery prevention and clear rules, such as the Registry of Private Companies Active in Compliance with Anti-corruption Measures (EACA) and the Handbook of Transparency and Anti-corruption Business Agreements.s

     

    • To engage civil society in the fight against corruption and the promotion of transparency and integrity, support has been given to actions such as strengthening of the National Citizen Council for Fighting Corruption, promotion of a “Friends of Transparency” network and improvement of accountability in citizen participation forums, as well as in NGOs, among others.

     

    Territorial Open Government: The change must take place at all political levels, from the national government to territorial governments. This area strengthens regional and local capacities in the implementation of the law on transparency; attention to citizens and management of corruptions risks; promoting citizen participation, social control and accountability. Additionally, the creation of a network of open governorates is being driven with a view to promoting exchange and peer-to-peer learning.

     

    The coordination work and the comprehensive approach of ACTUE is facilitating the steps being taken towards real change in Colombia, however ending the culture of corruption is a task that requires the commitment and joint work of all stakeholders in Colombian society.