In a series of statements, multiple NGOs today outlined their opposition both to the new fee components of the FOI Bill 2013, and the entire idea of upfront FOI fees.
Access Info Europe
One of the top access to information NGOs in Europe, Access Info Europe said that charging any upfront fee was the opposite of international best practice:
No other country in the European Union or the wider European region charges just for making a request for information.
“The standard is clear: there can be no charge made for exercising the fundamental right to ask for information from public bodies,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.
The social and economic benefits of government transparency are huge. They include increased efficiency which in turn leads to reduction of costs. Sometimes an FOI request can expose corruption or waste and help point to areas where savings can be made. CSOs engage in policy development, journalists write stories, entrepreneurs develop businesses reusing government data. This is in addition to the importance in a democracy of the public knowing what its government is doing, something which it is impossible to put a price tag on.
The European Court of Human Rights has recognised that access to information is a fundamental right linked to the right to freedom of expression. The UN Human Rights Committee has confirmed this.
“We don’t charge people for exercising other rights, for example, the right to vote” added Darbishire, noting that many democratic processes are expensive, which is precisely why the public pays taxes. “To charge a fee for FOI requests is unacceptable double taxation” she added.
Transparency International Ireland
In a detailed statement, including:
‘There is no economic case for FOI fees. The argument that FOI costs too much to administer ignores the reality that the information revealed by use of FOI in the public interest over the past decades has saved the taxpayers millions,’ said TI Ireland’s Research Manager, Nuala Haughey.
‘Ireland is unique in Europe and virtually the world in charging up-front application fees for FOI in the first place. The current government promised to restore the damage done to FOI by the last administration but has failed to fully live up to this Programme for Government pledge. These latest and last minute proposals only add insult to injury and undermine the government’s wider commitments to open government.’
Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN) Ireland
In a lengthy statement, including:
Charging for FOI requests, charges for multifaceted requests, and charging for ‘search and retrieval’ of the information present a barrier to citizens, limiting their rights, and prohibiting their ability to inform themselves about public policy. Inhibiting scrutiny will result in the non-disclosure of what should be public information. It is in the interest of everyone to increase participation and remove barriers to information which effects us all.
We call on the government to:
- Remove fees for all FOI requests and appeals.
- Allow multi-faceted FOI requests without additional charge.
- Remove fees charged for search and retrieval of information to fulfil FOI requests.