Civil society organisations, along with a number of academics and media figures, presented a draft Freedom of Information Act to the People’s Assembly on Monday 27th February during a hearing held by the Human Rights Committee of the Assembly.
The draft act is based on the philosophy of initial unrestricted availability with exemptions narrowly defined in the body of the act itself It is the responsibility of governmental and private agencies to routinely and periodically publish essential data, and to facilitate their information officials in making information available. The Supreme Council for Information, appointed by the prime minister co-ordinates a state policy of information disclosure.
Opposing the Supreme Council for Information and information employees, the act creates the position of Information Commissioner, chosen by a majority in the People’s Assembly and appointed by the President of the Republic. The Commissioner will receive the necessary resources for his work from and will present his yearly report to the People’s Assembly, and the law assigns him wide powers to carry out his functions. When a freedom of information request is denied, the Information Commissioner will arbitrate between the person requesting the information and the governmental or private agency concerned.
Amr Gharbeia, director of the Civil Liberties unit of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said: ‘The complete independence of the Information Commissioner, as provided for in this draft law, is a real guarantee of the protection of freedom of information.’ He added: ‘The commissioner must enjoy a similar status to all state oversight agencies, such as the Central Auditing Organisation or the Administrative Control Authority.’
The law also emphasises that all exceptions concerned with withholding information must be submitted to one consistent standard based on weighing up public interest against the benefit arising from confidentiality. In all cases, confidentiality is limited to individual privacy, commercial secrets, legal obligations towards a third party, national security, certain proceedings linked to the criminal investigations, and the development of government policies.
Those presenting the draft law confirmed that freedom of information is essential to improve the efficiency and performance of government agencies, just as it allows citizens to participate more effectively in dealing with government agencies, considering them possessed of this right. In addition, freedom of information is necessary for promoting a climate favourable to investment, and ensuring that investors work in an culture of transparency, allowing them to take decisions based on real information. Freedom of information is sure to create and strengthen a climate of security for citizens and the government alike; and social justice cannot be guaranteed without equal access to information for all citizens.
1. Support for Information Technology
2. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
3. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
To see the law, click here.