MJA urges Majlis to expedite Information Commissioner approval

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has called on the Majlis to expedite the vetting and approval of the Information Commissioner.

The position was created by the landmark Right to Information Act (RTI) which came into force on July 12.

The MJA also called on state institutions to appoint information officers to all offices as soon as possible, and thanked the Maldives Police Services for being the first to appoint an information officer.

The government, state institutions and government officials must provide access to information without restrictions, the MJA said and warned the government that it would monitor the state’s actions.


Office of the Information Commissioner established

President Abdulla Yameen has established the Office of the Information Commissioner as per the landmark Right to Information Act (RTI).

The Act, ratified in January, came into force on Saturday, July 12.

Yameen has nominated former Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abu Bakr for the position in June.

According to the RTI Act, the People’s Majlis must approve an Information Commissioner within 30 days of the act’s enforcement.

The commissioner’s tenure is five years and has the power enforce a fine on information officers who deliberately refuse access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR5000 (US$324).

The commissioner may also fine any individual who destroys requested information, obstructs a public authority or the Information Officer’s from providing access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR25,000 (US$ 1621).


President ratifies Right to Information Act

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has ratified the landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act today.

Advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives has hailed the ratification of the act as “major step forward for good governance and transparency.”

The act (Dhivehi) aims to widen and improve the scope for the citizen’s rights to information in order to increase transparency and accountability.

Within six months of ratification, the president is mandated to appoint a Commissioner of Information to enforce the act, while the government is obliged to appoint an Information Officer at every government office to facilitate access to information.

The Commissioner of Information’s tenure is five years. The act also provides for the establishment of an Office of the Commissioner of Information.

The commissioner has the power enforce a fine on information officers who deliberately refuse access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR5000 (US$324).

The commissioner may also fine any individual who destroys requested information, obstructs a public authority or the Information Officer’s from providing access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR25,000 (US$ 1621).

The act also provides protection to whistleblowers if the whistleblower publicises information regarding corruption or breach of the law.

Under the act, any public authority is obliged to comply with a request for information within 21 days. However, if the request is relevant to an individual’s liberty or protection of a person’s life, information must be provided within 48 hours.

Any request for information must state the request is being submitted under the RTI Act, details of the requested information, details of the applicant, an address for receipt of requested information, as well as the designated fee.

A request for information can be declined if the Information Officer deems the request to be incomplete, incorrect, or purposeless. However, the Information Officer must notify the applicant before declining the request and grant enough time and assistance to the applicant to revise their application

The state is not required to disclose any information designated confidential by law, or information that could cause legal action against the government for breach of confidence, or which could prevent future communication of such information to the government.

Furthermore, the state is not required to disclose information which could have an adverse impact on the government’s ability to manage or administer the economy or  information whose premature disclosure could put a person at an unfair advantage or disadvantage

Neither is the government obliged to reveal information that harms the immunities of the parliament and the courts, information of a closed trial, personal or judicial records which could harm the dignity of a child below 18 years, and information regarding victims of sexual abuse.


Majlis passes Right to Information Act

The People’s Majlis has unanimously voted to pass the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The act – first introduced to the Majlis in 2009 – was passed as presented by the Social Affairs Committee with minor amendments with the support of the 67 MPs.

Introducing the bill to the floor, the committee chair MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed said the committee had sought assistance from local media and international experts in revising the bill

The bill was first sent to the People’s Majlis in 2007 but was rejected. It was reintroduced to the current People’s Majlis in November 2009, and underwent a complete overhaul at the Social Affairs Committee.

Local NGO TransparencyMaldives (TM) which has advocated for the act for a long time described its passing as “an important step towards increasing transparency of the state institutions, ensuring greater accountability of public officials, and fighting corruption”.

“Transparency Maldives hopes that President Abdulla Yamin Abdul Gayoom will expedite the ratification of the bill.We call on all actors and institutions to provide their full support towards successfully implementing the law once ratified” said the organization in a press released issued today.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed said the act was one of the best legislation  passed by the Majlis.

Once the bill is ratified, subsidiary regulations will need to be passed, an Information Commissioner will need to be appointed and a support structure will need to be implemented, Aiman said.

If ratified the act will bring about major changes to the Maldives access to information regime. Although the current RTI regulation introduced in 2008 through an executive decree applies only to government offices, the new act will apply to all state funded institutions including the parliament, judiciary and independent institution.

Other key features of the act include the establishment of an information office in all state institutions, instituting a seven day period of response for information requests and a thirty day period to proved the information or reason for failure to do so.

An independent Information Commissioner will also be appointed by the parliament from names proposed by the president. Issues with acquiring information can be appealed to the Information Commissioner.


Transparency Maldives conducts RTI Symposium with state stakeholders

At a symposium on promoting right to information(RTI) organised by local anti-corruption NGO, Transparency Maldives, discussions were held on the importance of establishing a strong RTI regime in the country.

A variety of sessions, including RTI and democracy, administering an RTI regime, local governance and RTI, and proactive disclosure by the state were discussed at this symposium which aimed to create awareness among policy makers, public officials, civil society and media.

“We invited high level officials from relevant state institutions to the symposium. Our hope is that we can form partnerships to further promote RTI and advocate for passing the RTI bill currently in parliament with the best practices included in it,” Transparency Maldives Advocacy Manager Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News.

The NGO further said that they had invited experts from around the world to impart information about the importance of establishing a robust RTI law.

Speakers at the event included Senior Legal Officer for Freedom of Information and Expression at the Open Society Justice Initiative Sandra Coliver, Deputy Executive Director of the Open Democracy Advice Centre Mukelani Dimba, Legal Officer for the Centre for Law and Democracy Michael Karanicolas, Programme Coordinator of Access to Information Programme at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Venkatesh Nayak, former Information Commissioner at the Indian Central Information Commission Shailesh Gandhi and Chairperson of local NGO Democracy House Mohamed Anil.

Speaker of Parliament, Abdulla Shahid, chief guest at the symposium, said in his speech that freedom of information is a concept alien to the local society. He said that it had traditionally been reserved for the privileged and powerful classes.

“Our society tended to make very deliberate demarcations between those who need to know, who should know and those who need not know,” he said, further adding, “I strongly believe access of information must be an indispensable part of any true democracy.”

Right to Information has been regulated in the Maldives from January 2009 under a presidential decree, following the failure to pass a similar bill in parliament in 2007. The current regulation covers only the ministries under the executive.

“In addition to the executive, the RTI Act should also cover the parliament, the judiciary, the independent institutions, the state companies, NGOs and utility companies,” said Rasheed in his speech.

He also added that there should not be “unnecessary obstacles” for information seekers, and that there should not be “blanket secrecy” granted to any institution.

A new RTI Bill was submitted to parliament in November 2009, which has since been pending at the Social Affairs Committee. Speaking at Monday’s symposium, Shahid said that Chair of the Social Affairs Committee had assured him that he was “very hopeful” the bill would be adopted before the end of the year.

In addition to conducting the symposium, Transparency Maldives has previously coordinated trainings on RTI for civil society and media, produced a critique of the RTI Bill at the Parliament’s Social Affairs Committee and received endorsements for their position on RTI from the Anti Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, the Auditor General and the Ministry of Human Rights and Gender.

The NGO has also stated that it further intends to conduct workshops on RTI in 13 atolls and to assist in the establishment of a system through information technology which aims to increase convenience for the public in obtaining information from the state.

Minivan News tried contacting Chair of the Social Affairs Committee PPM MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed and Co-Chair DRP MP Hassan Latheef, but neither was responding to calls at the time of press.