Integrity Watch: Severe restrictions exist on access to information within Afghan government

In a news conference today, February 05, the Integrity Watch Afghanistan expressed support for the protest organized by a large number of Afghan media against restrictions on access to information and emphasized that there are serious restrictions placed on access to information for the civil society organizations and journalists in the Afghan government. As a staunch supporter of access to information in Afghanistan in the past decade, Integrity Watch has been involved in making and amending Access to Information Law and establishing units in charge of access to information within the government administration.

“The three branches of Afghan government have failed to implement Access to Information Law, and some consider themselves above the law,” said Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director of the Integrity Watch Afghanistan. Accessing information from the Parliament, the Senate, Judiciary, Attorney’s General Office, Ministry of Education, Presidential Palace, Administrative Office of the President takes more time than other institutions. “Afghanistan has the best Access to Information Law, but the government has failed to provide enough budget, staff and political and institutional support to implement it,” Mr. Afzali added.

The explanation of Article 11 of Access to Information Law provided by Access to Information Commission is flawed and can indeed create barriers to access to information. This article of the law should be interpreted based on the needs of media and people’s access to information through them.

Integrity Watch’s field surveys conducted in 2019 shows that the majority of the people are still unaware of Access to Information Law. Ezatullah Adib, Head of Research at Integrity Watch, said that, “the preliminary findings of a current study being conducted by Integrity Watch also highlights that there are serious challenges ahead of access to information and implementation of Access to Information Law.” Mr. Adib emphasized that, “no institution should talk about improving access to information without field investigations and detailed evidence.”

“The commitment of the leadership of agencies to access to information as well as reporting through the media is very weak. Even in some cases, the leadership of the institutions prevent access to information,” said Mr. Afzali. He recommended that the leadership of the agencies should report to the public on a continuous, evidence-based basis through the media, adding that responsibility of reporting to the public and access to information could not be limited just to spokespersons of the agencies.

“One of the key criteria for assessing the government’s commitment to access to information is the follow-up to findings of media investigative reports and civil society investigations,” said Mohammad Naser Timory, Head of Advocacy and Communications at Integrity Watch. “In the last few years, we have not witnessed following up the findings of media’s investigative reports.”

Despite limited access to information, security and financial threats to the media, investigative reports are consistently published by more than ten media outlets. The Executive has not only followed up the findings of these investigative reports in line with the law, but lawsuits have been filed against the media and journalists who have conducted these reports. “One of the main goals of the media and journalists is to have positive impacts on people’s lives, and hesitance of the executive power and the Attorney General’s Office to follow up findings of the investigative reports make it problematic,” he added.

Recommendations

Adherence of leadership of agencies to accountability for people through media

Reporting and responding to people must be one of the most important affairs in managing any agencies’ leadership. There are clear indications that a number of high officials in different agencies see access to information as a secondary responsibility, and in some cases avoid prevent providing to media. A democratic government would be meaningless without responding to people. The leadership of agencies must report to the people in a timely manner based on reliable evidences and respond to questions raised by the media which reflects the people concerns.

Follow up on the findings of investigative reports

We have not witnessed follow up of the findings of investigative reports over past years, while the Afghan laws, including the criminal procedure code, obligates the executive power, particularly the Attorney General’s Office to sue findings of investigative reports conducted by media and civil society organizations. A key indicator of the government’s practical commitment is to follow up the findings of investigative reports.

Implementation of Article 15 of Access to Information Law

Since the needed information is not published timely on media, government spokespersons receive many requests and then consider these requests as measure and indicator of their success. Article 15 of Access to Information Law obliges the entire state to publish precautionary information. However, if the article is implemented timely, comprehensively, and accurately, it would facilitate the dissemination of information.

Resources need to be allocated for implementing Access to Information Law

The Afghan government has provided its information and media units with insufficient resources. Due to the poor attention of the political leadership of the government and high authorities, a number of institutions do not have the minimum human resources and equipment to collect, process, and produce information. The Afghan government needs to invest on institutional, social, physical, and technological infrastructures, and for facilitating access to information.

Contacts for more details:

Call 0780942942 and 0794610003

E-mail: info@integritywatch.org, n.timory@integritywatch.org