After more than 7 years of advocacy, the Lebanese government has passed the Access to Information Law. This will bring the total number of countries in the MENA region that have right to information legislations to 4 countries - the others are Israel, Jordan and Yemen.
Access to information is vital for our movement - people must be able know about the laws and regulations that govern their lives, particularly those concerning essential services. An enforceable right to information to ensure that laws and regulations are implemented effectively is vital to legally empower people and safeguard democracy. If you are trying to pass a similar law in your own country you may be able to learn from this example, especially on how sustained civil society pressure can lead to reform.
You can read more here where documents are available in Arabic, French and English.
The below is an extract from Thomas Reuter Zawya:
Parliament also approved a “Right to Access to Information” law that was presented by MP Ghassan Moukheiber, years after the draft was submitted. The MP hailed the Parliament’s decision, saying it was the fruit of collaboration between civil society and governmental agencies.
“The bill was originally initiated and drafted within a broad network the Lebanese Network for Access to Information – that was shared by the Lebanese Parliamentarians against Corruption Organization,” he told The Daily Star. The Lebanese Transparency Association is among the entities that were included in the network and that worked on the law. “This process led to the drafting of a bill in 2009 that was submitted to Parliament by myself with other members of the Lebanese Parliamentarians against Corruption that has been in debate ever since. Finally, it was voted on today,” he added. “So it was process that took about eight to nine years.”
Moukheiber explained that any document, contract or map that is produced by institutions either in a physical or electronic format was included under the law. “Access to information can happen through two ways: either automatically or by application,” he said. “Automatic means that an amount of information must be published electronically on the websites of all parties that are bound by law. So [they must] make available online a number of documents including yearly activity reports and the detailed enforcement regulations that are normally issued by ministries and other governmental agencies.”
As for the application method, the lawmaker said that it is open to any person, Lebanese or not. He also added that the party would not even need to state a specific interest in receiving the document.
As for the entities that will be required to publish information voluntarily, Moukheiber identified them as the various government agencies, independent authorities, municipalities and some companies providing public service and any public entity.
“All of these are bound to [follow] the law and that’s a major development … and broadens the concept of parties that are bound to provide access to information,” he said. “But there are exceptions. There are number of documents … related to secrets such as security and diplomatic secrets and other information that in specific laws are considered to be confidential, such as medical confidentiality. The law [also] includes a section on the protection of personal data,” he said.
Some documents will also carry a fee for access, but upon payment the information must be released.