Thursday, 26 June 2008 5:48 AM

Senior Pacific Policy Makers to Discuss Freedom of Information

Senior policy makers from Forum Island Countries are to discuss with international experts and Pacific counterparts issues regarding the value of freedom of information (FOI) in the region at the Freedom of Information Workshop for Pacific Policy Makers to be held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, 30 June - 2 July 2008.

The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) with the support of the United Nations Development Programme Pacific Centre are coordinating the workshop. The Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Hon. Dr Derek Sikua, MP will open the workshop on 30 June.

"The Pacific Plan which was endorsed by Forum Leaders in 2005 recognises freedom of information (FOI) as a key milestone of initiative 12.3 to enhance governance mechanisms under the Good Governance pillar of the Plan. This workshop will expose policy makers in the region to the key arguments in favour of FOI, good practice standard of FOI law-making and practical issues for consideration when implementing FOI," says Feleti Teo, Acting Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat.

"It is envisaged that the workshop will agree on a roadmap for the development of FOI policies and legislation at the national level," says Mr Teo.

Apart from Australia and New Zealand, Cook Islands is the first Forum member country to adopt FOI legislation. The law was passed in February 2008 and will come into force in 2009.

Article 51 of Papua New Guinea's Constitution is the only Constitution in the Pacific to specifically enshrine the right to information. Meanwhile, while Article 175 of Fiji's Constitution requires the Government to enact a freedom of information law and draft legislation was produced some years ago, a law has yet to be passed. Draft freedom of information laws have been developed by civil society organisations in PNG, Fiji and Vanuatu.

"Enacting legislation to enable ordinary people to reliably and easily access information from their governments is a key mechanism for empowering people and gives them the means to more effectively engage in their own governance and development," says Garry Wiseman, the Manager of the UNDP Pacific Centre.

"With a right to access information, people can start asking questions about how they can access government services, question Government decision-making and more actively get involved in activities and programmes that affect their daily lives. In the Pacific, where people have often felt disconnected from their leaders and civil servants, promoting greater access to information and dissemination is key strategy for supporting people to reconnect with their governments. However, above all it is critical that when the information is available to people that it is in a form which is readily understood."

Countries that have confirmed participation at the workshop include the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.