Information commissioners key to successful monitoring and reporting on SDG 16.10.2

Recognising the vital role of information commissioners in upholding information rights in the interest of sustainable development, UNESCO hosted recently a training workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Aiming at enhancing the capacity of information commissioners as well as integrating them into the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goal on access to information (ATI), the workshop attracted nearly 50 participants from different regions of the world.

Held on 10 March 2019, as a pre-event of the 11th International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC), was an opportunity to help the participants contextualise the significance of their work in the wider framework of sustainable development.

 “As the enablers of access-to-information (ATI) laws, information commissioners are in the right position to track progress and ensure ongoing improvement. Together the civil society, they have a key role in working with government and civil society in the monitoring and reporting on SDG 16.10.2 on access to information,” said Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

During the workshop, UNESCO put into test its monitoring and reporting instrument for SDG indicator 16.10.2, which was developed together with experts, CSOs, concerned organizations and other UN agencies. Participants, from both ATI oversight bodies and civil society organizations, examined the survey template and learned how to better respond to the questions it covers.

Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), who was also one of facilitators in the workshop, said that Africa and Asian regions are home to most of the top-20 ATI laws, as analysed by the Global Right to Information Rating. He, however, also emphasised that reporting on SDG 16.10.2 was not a ‘beauty contest’ between countries, but rather to track progress from year to year.

As the custodian agency for SDG 16.10.2, UNESCO has outlined several key actions to track ATI progress, as well as supporting Member States in fulfilling their obligation to report such progress.

UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) has sponsored the participation of information commissioners and equivalent functions from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tunisia. This participation enabled delegates at the conference to form a steering committee that will formalise a network of African Information Commissioners.

“In the lack of available funding [for this kind of peer-to-peer learning], the support from UNESCO has been truly appreciated. Being part of this kind of event has allowed my country to be on the same track as other countries,” said Mark Bedor-Wla Freeman, Liberian Information Commissioner.  

In the case of Ghana, where an enabling law for right-to-information (RTI) is still awaiting passage in parliament, participation in the Johannesburg conference can help to add momentum. Pethuel Ahiakonu Kwasi Danyo, Deputy Director at Public Service Reform Secretariat, who represents Ghana in the Open Government Partnership, said he hoped to push for the inclusion of the issue of public access to information in Ghana’s Voluntary National Review to the UN General Assembly later this year.

The Johannesburg workshop was part of UNESCO’s strategy in global data collection on SDG 16.10.2, in which it collaborates with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and CLD. The global exercise puts weight on the participation of information commissioners and equivalent functions in 43 countries who are encouraged to provide information on the progress of ATI implementation through UNESCO’s survey instrument.

The national contributions to SDG processes are expected to heighten national and global recognition of Information Commissioners, leading to more opportunities to strengthen the visibility, resourcing and impact of their work.

UNESCO’s support to the 2019 ICIC was made possible by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). With support from Germany and The Netherlands, UNESCO’s IPDC is currently implementing projects related to advancing SDG 16.10.2 in several countries.