Pacific Media Watch

24 March 2016

SOLOMON ISLANDS: Government makes progress towards FOI law

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Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Damukana Sogavare. Image: SIBC/ Epoch Times

HONIARA (PACNEWS/ Pacific Media Watch): The Solomon Islands government has embarked on yet another measure that will aid in its fight to reduce corruption.  
The Office of the Ombudsman facilitated the visit of Anti-Corruption and Freedom of Information (FOI) specialist and attorney Aylair Livingstone, who was engaged by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with the agreement of the government, to develop drafts of an FOI policy and law.  

The week-long visit involved consultations with a number of state actors and members of civil society to share information about the FOI framework initiative, gain preliminary feedback on the current state of government information disclosure, potential obstacles to FOI implementation such as deficiencies in records management practices and resources, the digitising of records, and ICT implications.

The government is working towards the enactment of an FOI law by early 2017.

A FOI act gives the public legal rights to access information held by government bodies (subject only to narrowly drawn exemptions), enables greater public participation in the decision making processes at national and provincial levels, and facilitates greater transparency and accountability in governance.  
This policy and law specifically commits the government to proactively release information into the public domain; receiving and responding to requests for information within defined time frames.

The denial of a request for access can be appealed against to a specially established enforcement body at little or no cost.

The move towards the development of a FOI policy and law underscores the government’s on-going commitment to openness and transparency and will complement a number of other anti-corruption measures such as the imminent passage of an Anti-Corruption Law, the Whistle Blower Bill, the Ombudsman (Special Provisions) Bill, the Leadership Code (Further Provisions) Bill, and the National and Provincial Election (Further Provisions) Bill.   
In 2005, the government endorsed the Pacific Plan which identifies FOI as an indicator under the good governance pillar.  
Three years later, in 2008, the Solomon Islands hosted 10 Forum Island Countries (FICs) in Honiara for the first regional meeting on FOI legislation for Pacific government officials.  
More recently, in 2012, the government signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).  

The development of a FOI policy and law will see the Solomon Islands join the ranks of Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Fiji that have either passed FOI laws or are in the process of doing so.  

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