12 October 2021 –
The right of access to information is an essential tool for promoting the fight against corruption, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, a region that suffers from a huge gap in terms of the preservation of this right, reiterated Coalition members during the second regional meeting of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Group that took place on 14 September 2021. The meeting focused on access to information as a tool in the fight against corruption and was held just days before the annual celebration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
Karim Belhaj Aissa, the UNCAC Coalition’s Coordinator for the MENA region recalled that the right to information (RTI) acquires a particular resonance and relevance with regard to the fight against corruption. This resonance is put forward through the UNCAC that elaborates on the right of citizens to know what governments are doing, in particular article 10 of the Convention which insists on adopting specific measures to this right to strengthen the transparency of public administration including decision-making processes. Moreover, the Convention explicitly mentioned the right to information in at least 4 articles highlighting the importance of preserving this right for making the administration accountable, as well as mentioning the importance of sharing information in a transparent manner on some specific subjects such as the financing of political parties and public procurement.
Managing Director of the Coalition, Mathias Huter, opened the meeting by highlighting the importance of transparency and access to information, not only to fight corruption but above all to prevent this scourge, recalling the various declarations made in the UN context, including during the last UNGASS against corruption. He also highlighted the efforts of the coalition to strengthen this right. Mahdi Dahech, representing I WATCH (Tunisia) and member of the Coalition’s board, reaffirmed the importance of the RTI and insisted on the need to consolidate the efforts of the Coalition members to strengthen transparency in the MENA region.
Following these opening statements, Denyse Degiorgio from the Vienna Hub presented the Coalition’s ATI campaign and encouraged the MENA members to take part in these efforts and to request governments in the region to release key documents from the UNCAC country review, through the submission of an ATI request. She underlined, in particular, the importance of this campaign in the MENA region which suffers from a huge deficit in terms of transparency and protection of the RTI compared to other regions.
RTI in MENA countries and civil society’s contributions
The main speakers of the meeting discussed certain aspects of the experience of their respective countries in the implementation of the RTI for the reinforcement of transparency and the fight against corruption. Hilda Ajeilat, representing Jordan Transparency Center and former board member of the Coalition, recalled the experience of her country, being the first one in the region to adopt a law protecting the RTI. She especially highlighted the efforts of her organization to improve the law and the participatory approach they have adopted to convince the Jordanian government and parliament to launch a reform guaranteeing the efficiency of the ATI law by bringing it into conformity with international standards.
Ahmad Ben Taarit, representing I WATCH (Tunisia), highlighted the experience of his organization in using the RTI for the investigation of cases of corruption. He also discussed the efforts of his organization to strengthen the capacities of CSOs to use this right, in particular for strengthening the accountability of the public administration. Ahmad also emphasized the efforts made by his organization in the field of training for those in charge of access to information within public administrations in Tunisia and especially at the level of municipalities.
The Kuwaiti experience was presented by Majid Al Mutairy from the CSO Kuwait Transparency Society, who began by presenting the participatory approach of his organization which led to the adoption of the law on access to information in his country. Majid also discussed the expectations of civil society in Kuwait in relation to the use of the law for strengthening transparency in general and fighting corruption in particular.
The open discussion that followed the presentations was very rich and highlighted the importance of the implementation of RTI laws in the countries of the region. In addition to the importance of continuing efforts to promote effective implementation in countries where the right is not fully protected, in other countries it is still necessary to promote the adoption of specific laws in this area. At the end of the meeting, participants reaffirmed their wishes as members of the Coalition to continue their efforts to improve transparency in their respective countries and in the region, in particular by accelerating the implementation of the Coalition’s ATI campaign which was launched recently.