Vanuatu Implementation Of 'Right To Information' Act Could Be A Long Process

Act allows for a staged approach, which is necessary in order to allow time for government to complete the transition from a chronically information-poor environment

By Dan McGarry

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, February 11, 2017) – Following a meeting with a Daily Post editorial team Thursday, the Government’s Right To Information team reiterated their commitment to the process, and to partnering with media to ensure the best, easiest possible implementation.

The road to a full-fledged RTI-friendly environment will be a long one. Government officers estimated that it could take almost five years from the date of enactment to achieve 100% coverage of all government agencies and relevant private sector organisations.

Harold Obed and June Naviti, who comprise the Vanuatu Government Right to Information team, met with Daily Post editorial staff to discuss the broad strokes of the roll-out effort, and the timeline to complete information.

As a first step, the team said, it’s necessary to establish a baseline. In order to do this, they have sent baseline assessment forms to every relevant agency and organisation.

These questionnaires include questions concerning how the organisation’s data and records are stored, and whether staff have protocols in place to address and track requests for information. It also asks what kind of information exists, and if any special circumstances apply.

The RTI Act itself is quite sweeping in its scope, effectively making all government information publicly available unless there is a compelling reason to withhold it. This transformation implies that fundamental changes will need to be made in how many—if not most—government agencies interact with the public.

The Act allows for a staged approach, which is necessary in order to allow time for government to complete the transition from a chronically information-poor environment. The RTI team outlined the sensitive nature of the process, and expressed a commitment to getting it right the first time.

In addition to the baseline assessment, workshops and training sessions are already being organised with government departments. These activities will ultimately reach into the islands, but budget constraints limit them to Port Vila for the time being.

During the Thursday meeting, Daily Post management offered to assist in workshopping the process in order to provide real-world use cases for ministerial and departmental staff to consider. The RTI team indicated their interest in getting a fitting and robust process implemented, and agreed that coordination and cooperation would be necessary.

They emphasised that their commitment to partnership extends to MAV and to all media organisations in Vanuatu.

 

Asked to give an indication of when they expected the first formal RTI request could be made, they suggested that August was a reasonable date.

Shortly after the Act comes into effect, the Minister responsible (in this case, the Prime Minister) must issue an Order, stating which agencies will be the first to enable the Act’s formal processes. From that moment, those agencies have six months to become compliant. This includes appointing an Information Officer, and making whatever changes are necessary to enabling the open information environment prescribed by the law.

The law rolls out in three waves, as it were. The last agencies to participate may have about four and half years before they are legally required to become compliant. Government were not in a position to state which departments and ministries would be first, as the baseline assessment was only just getting under way.

Given the limited resources currently allocated to the programme, donor support may be required if the timeline and logistical challenges are to be met.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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