Parliament’s unanimous approval on the Right to Information (RTI) Bill yesterday afternoon has marked another significant milestone in Vanuatu’s history.
Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, who is also the minister responsible for media, tabled the 69-page document.
Listed as Bill number 3 out of the 11 bills listed for the 2nd Extraordinary Session, the bill provides for the guarantee of the right to information of all persons and establishes practical supportive mechanisms.
Salwai said it is part of the national policy, reflected in the government’s commitment that information is a right and fundamental cornerstone of the democratic principle of good governance.
“There are five indicators, effective information disclosure,” he said. “Maximum Disclosure, Maximum Accessibility, Affordability, Effective Implementation and Media and Governance Relations.”
This was approved in 2013 and numerous consultations have been conducted.
PM Salwai said the Government has also made numerous commitments, both nationally and internationally over the years, to improve transparency and accountability on the government to include right to information.
“These commitments are contained in the Priorities and Action Agenda for Vanuatu 2006 – 2015,” he said.
“This recognizes the importance of providing a free flow of information on government programs and services to MPs, citizens, civil society and development partners.
“Another commitment in the Pacific Plan for Regional Integration which includes good governance.
“This aims to improve transparency, accountability, equity and efficiency on the management and use of resources in a nation, which includes freedom of information.”
He pointed out that Vanuatu’s accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2008, meant that the country has a legal obligation in accordance with Article 19 of ICCPR to respect the right of people to seek and receive information.
Vanuatu has also ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which recognizes transparency, and ensures the government is committed to ensuring accountability.
Article 13 of this convention states that the public must have effective access to information, able to undertake public information activity and contribute to non-tolerance of corruption as well as public education programs.
Member of Parliament for Efate Rural, Ephraim Kalsakau noted that the lengthy discussions throughout indicated that the bill is very important but said it is long overdue.
Tanna MP Andrew Napuat welcomed the bill, saying information is power and a leader needs to be well informed to make good decisions for the people.
PM Salwai agreed that information is power but it must be true information, and said the bill will stop hearsay (Mi harem se).
MP for Ambrym Albert William said it is good to see the bill finally debated in parliament, after dancing on the list of bills in past legislatures.
Parliament has been adjourned to 8.30am today, after the voting on the RTI bill at 5.01pm yesterday.