This morning a large number of Afghan civil society organisations and several media organisations used the media attention surrounding the Kabul conference to launch a campaign highlighting the need for access to information and calling for the necessary legislation to be drafted. The demand is an important one. The pervasive ambiguity, the lack of clarity on what the rules are and the lack of transparency on how they are implemented within government instutitions undermines the efforts towards better governance and the strengthening of citizen’s rights.
The campaign’s petition:
“We, the undersigned, are asking the Afghan government to pass Act of Access to Information to grant Afghan citizens their constitutional right following Art 50 to access information.
We also ask the Afghan government to pass the Act through a consultative process involving Afghan civil society, private institutions and assistance providers.
We urge the Afghan government to commit to a timeframe for passing the Act and to ensure that its implementation and enforcement provides Afghan citizens full access to information.
At the wake of the July 2010 Kabul Conference, Afghanistan is at a critical juncture. Corruption is rampant in public institutions and Afghan citizens are widely unable to influence and hold aid providers accountable. The limited access to information by citizens is an obstacle in fighting corruption and increase transparency and accountability. Access to information encourages citizen participation, ensures good governance and social inclusion, promotes free media and improves the efficiency of public institutions.
Access to information is a basic human right that is both acknowledged in the Afghan culture and in the government system of Afghanistan. Article 50 of the Afghan constitution gives Afghan citizens the right to access information from state institutions.
Some public institutions are already deliberately making information accessible. This is notably the case for the Ministry of Finance when it comes to budgetary transparency and for the Ministry of Mines and Industries for the transparency in managing extractive industries. Another example is the publication of asset and income declaration of high government officials by the High Office of Oversight.
Finally, a draft of the Act for Access to Information has been elaborated by the Civil Society and Human Rights Network through a highly consultative process seeking inputs from both civil society organizations and citizens in Kabul and other provinces. This draft can be used as a solid and legitimate foundation.
How will the Act improve the lives of ordinary Afghans?
The law will not only apply to state institutions at national, provincial and district levels, but also to non-state actors that exploit natural resources and that receive public funds or benefits and that carry out public functions, including the provision of public services. The Act will therefore allow citizens to influence policies beyond that of the state: they will be able to have a voice in the aid processes and the decisions surrounding the exploitation of natural resources.
Citizens will be able to know essential information about the provision of public services, such as land distribution and its criteria, timeframe for issuing passports or identity cards, school construction costs and electricity distribution.
Most importantly, the law will empower the poor. Studies and surveys show that corruption and lack of accountability affect the poor the most, whether it is in Afghanistan or in other countries. Access to information will allow poor citizens to have a chance to regain ground in their struggle for a just existence.”
The petition is open for signatures here.
The campaign was launched during a press conference on 18 July 10:00 Kabul time. The English press release can be downloaded here.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020