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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent

Sec. 13. Adopting Policies on Parliamentary Transparency

Parliament shall adopt policies that ensure the routine and proactive publication and dissemination of parliamentary information, including policies regarding the formats in which this information will be published. Parliamentary transparency policies shall be publicly available and shall specify terms for periodic review of this policy to take advantage of technological innovations and evolving good practices. Where parliament may not have the capacity to publish comprehensive parliamentary information, parliaments should develop partnerships with civil society to assure broad public access to parliamentary information.

Although provisions on parliamentary transparency may appear in constitutions, statutes, rules of procedure, or other regulations, parliaments should have a clearly defined and publicly available transparency policy. By adopting an explicit transparency policy, parliaments signal a necessary commitment to transparency and openness to the country’s citizens. The policy may include such things as procedures for requesting parliamentary information that is not otherwise readily available, as well as procedures for challenging decisions to not disclose particular information. According to a World Bank Institute report, “international provisions make clear that, in addition to having numerous benefits for public bodies and for members of the public, proactive disclosure is an obligation that is part of the right of access to information.”[1] India, Mexico, Hungary, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom are among the countries in which government transparency policies instruct government bodies to err on the side of disclosure.[2]

In addition to publishing their transparency policies, parliaments should review these policies on a regular basis. Periodic review allows parliaments to consider evolving good practices and to take advantage of technological advances. The conclusions of a 2004 Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and World Bank Institute study group on access to information noted that “[c]onsideration should be given to regular parliamentary review, for example on a biannual basis, of implementation of the access to information regime.” [3] The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament has also established that parliaments should elaborate “strategic plans, updated regularly, for the use of ICT that directly improve the operational capacity of parliaments to fulfill their legislative, oversight, and representational responsibilities.”[4] 

Yet, the concept of public ownership of parliamentary (and government) information implies the obligation of public institutions to proactively disclose information. According to Access Info and the Open Knowledge Foundation, “For members of the public, the automatic availability of information means timely access to information and hence reduces the need to file information requests. Additionally, in countries still emerging from authoritarian regimes or where corruption is widespread, proactive disclosure permits anonymous access and so gives some protection to applicants from weaker segments of society who might not feel comfortable writing to government bodies to ask for information for fear of repercussions.”[5] 

Many countries regularly publish and review policies or processes dealing with transparency and other procedures.  In British Columbia, Canada, the parliament is required by law to conduct a review of its processes every six years.[6] More recently, the United States House of Representatives, in their Standards for Posting Info, provides that processes and technologies used to disseminate legislative information “will be phased in and subject to periodic review and reissuance. To ensure documents are made available in user-friendly formats that preserve their integrity, these standards will be subject to periodic review and reissuance by the Committee on House Administration.”[7]

[1] Helen Darbishire, Proactive Transparency: The future of the right to information?, World Bank Institute, p. 1.

[2] Ibid., p.6-7, 16

[3] Toby Mendel. Parliament and Access to Information: Working for Transparent Governance, CPA-WBI, §13.2.

[4] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p.170.

[5] p. 69.

[6] Toby Mendel. Parliament and Access to Information: Working for Transparent Governance, CPA-WBI, §13.2.

[7] United States House of Representatives, Standards for Posting Information