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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title IV - Making Parliamentary Information Easily Accessible

Sec. 31. Guaranteeing Accessibility throughout the Country

To the extent possible, access to parliamentary information shall not be restricted by geographic barriers. Although the use of parliamentary websites facilitates access to parliamentary information without geographic restriction, in countries where Internet access and usage is limited, parliaments shall seek other means of ensuring public access to parliamentary information throughout the country.

Parliaments have a responsibility to attempt to involve and inform as many citizens as possible. This concept is vital to openness as well as widely accepted standards of the citizens’ right to access information.  Parliaments must play an active role in advancing their use of technology to reach as many people as possible, “advancing these technologies and ensuring that they are available to all sectors of the population and not only those in urban areas or with greater income,” according to a report by the European Parliament’s OPPD. This includes actions like extending access to broadband.[1] 

As noted in the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s report, Implementing Access to Information, mass media plays a vital role in “bridg[ing] the distance” between citizens and parliament.[2] In Ghana, parliament has “established local centers where citizens can gather and have access to shared technology that connects them to the parliament,” as well as “resource centers in regions to allow citizens live webcast or TV access to plenary.”[3] The Uganda Parliament is introducing a system for receiving, organizing and analyzing citizen input via SMS. In Hungary, the Library of the Parliament offers special telephone lines and email addresses that citizens can contact with questions concerning the legislation or work of the Parliament.[4]  The Parliament of South Africa has a program by which members “spend two weeks a year holding sessions in different parts of the country,” which include a “media component” as well as “open question periods.”[5]

[1] Office for Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy [hereinafter, “OPPD”], Information and Communications Technologies in Parliament: Tools for Democracy, European Parliament, August 2010, p. 20.

[2] Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative [hereinafter, “CHRI”], Implementing Access to Information, p.23.

[3] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 21, 26.

[4] IPU, Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Good Practice, p. 54.

[5] Toby Mendel, Parliament and Access to Information: Working for Transparent Governance, CPA-WBI, p.34.