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New Initiative Uses Environmental Lens to Promote Government Transparency in Key African Countries

A new initiative was recently launched to promote government transparency and increase people’s access to information in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa. The Access to Information in Africa: Transparency Models and Lessons Learned (ATI in Africa) project is coordinated by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in partnership with the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) in Ghana, Greenwatch in Uganda and the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) in South Africa.

“While there have been recent reforms in Africa that have helped usher in multi-party politics and elections, there are still many gaps in accountability mechanisms, such as access to information laws,” said Victor Brobbey, research fellow for Governance and Legal Policy at CDD. “This initiative is designed to advance reforms in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa that will improve the quality of governance and protect people’s rights in these countries.”

Uganda and South Africa have a comprehensive freedom of information act which grants citizens the right of access to information in the custody of public institutions. In Ghana, a freedom of information bill awaits action in the parliament.

This initiative comes on the heels of recent developments to increase people’s access to information in Liberia and Nigeria. On October 4, 2010, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed into law the Liberian Freedom of Information Act. The signing made Liberia the first West African country with a comprehensive freedom of information law. More recently, on March 16, 2011, the Nigerian Senate passed the Freedom of Information Bill. This followed the passing of a similar bill by the House of Representatives. A “harmonization conference committee” has been appointed to resolve the differences between the Senate and House bills.

“These new laws are a step forward in these two countries—we are looking forward to similar measures in other African countries,” said Peter Veit, senior associate, WRI, and director of the ATI in Africa project. “Working with local partners on the ground in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa, we will be using an objective, analytical approach to explore new opportunities that lie in environmental and natural resource laws to advance people’s rights of access to information, including government-held information on land, oil, natural gas minerals, forests and water.”

The ATI in Africa project is designed improve access to information in Africa by identifying and testing sectoral approaches for citizens and civil society organizations to access information on the environment and high-value natural resources. Transparency infrastructure that provide citizens with multiple avenues to access government-held information are likely to be more robust and secure, and can better protect the right of access to information.

“The ATI in Africa project’s approach to increase access to information though an environmental lens provides a unique approach to help people and improve governance in Africa,” said Tavinder Nijhawan, Senior Management Officer at the International Development Research Centre. “We are excited to be supporting this project, which should help identify new pathways to engage governments, civil society and individuals on environmental and natural resource issues that affect people’s lives and livelihoods.”

*ATI in Africa *is supported principally with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada as well as Irish Aid, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and World Bank Development Grant Facility. The IDRC grant will support the project for a period of two years, and is part of IDRC’s new portfolio of investments to catalyze more open and inclusive models of development through research and outreach.

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The World Resources Institute is a global environmental think tank that goes beyond research to put ideas into action (www.wri.org).

Open Democracy Advice Center is a non-profit based in Cape Town. ODAC’s mission is to promote open and transparent democracy; foster a culture of corporate and government accountability; and assist people in South Africa to be able to realize their human rights (http://www.opendemocracy.org.za/).

Greenwatch is an environmental rights advocacy NGO in Uganda that promotes public participation in the sustainable use, management and protection of the environment and natural resources and the enforcement of the Constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment (http://www.greenwatch.or.ug/).

Ghana’s Center for Democratic Development is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit research-based and policy-oriented think tank in Accra, Ghana. CDD’s mission is to promote democracy, good governance and the development of liberal economic environment in Ghana in particular and Africa in general. (http://www.cddghana.org/).

International Development Research Center is a Canadian Crown corporation that works in close collaboration with researchers from the developing world in their search for the means to build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies (www.idrc.ca).

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