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Solomom Is To Work On Freedom Of Info Laws

Solomon Islands Keen to Work on National Freedom of Information Legislation

Honiara – June 30 - The Solomon Islands Government is keen to work with regional partners to develop national legislation on freedom of information, Prime Minister Dr Derek Sikua, MP, announced today.

Delivering the keynote address at the opening of the Freedom of Information Workshop for Pacific Policy Makers in Honiara this morning, he said his Government also acknowledges the value of the right to information in promoting responsive democratic governance, supporting participatory social and economic development, moderating conflict and in professionalising the media.

“We support information disclosure to the extent that it does not undermine public interest and national security,” said Dr Sikua.

“Above all we are keen to work with the Forum Secretariat and other partners in looking at national legislation on freedom of information. Such legislation must have practical and effective implementation mechanisms.”

The three day workshop is organised by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Centre. Participants are attending from ten Pacific Island countries – Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Prime Minister Sikua pointed out that the key to fulfilling one’s right to freedom of information is education.

“I believe a literate and educated population will not only appreciate the right to freedom of information, but also contributes to the value of the freedom of information.”

He also emphasised the critical role the media plays in realising the right to freedom of information.

“The media have a duty to give people as much information as possible about events and issues affecting their lives. Without media analysis an information vacuum occurs in which rumours, whispers and false stories are spread that could create undue anxiety and instability in our countries.”

Speaking at the opening session of the workshop Garry Wiseman, the Manager of the UNDP Pacific Centre, said the right to information has long been recognised as underpinning all other rights to which the United Nations is committed.

“Without information people cannot effectively protect and promote their own rights,” said Mr Wiseman

“Notably, 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which all Pacific Island countries, as members of the United Nations have committed themselves. We are, therefore, very pleased to support a workshop on right to information in the same year as the anniversary of the Declaration,” he said.

Mr Wiseman said contrary to popular belief in the Pacific, freedom of information was not restricted to the work of the media.

“The right to information is a tool which can be used by all members of society to empower ordinary members of the community to better participate in their own governance and development. With more information about what governments are doing, what services they provide and what programmes they are implementing, members of the public can engage with the development activities around them at their own pace and in their own way,” he said.

“With freedom of information, people can start asking questions about issues that interest them and that are important to their lives.”

Prime Dr Minister Sikua and Mr Wiseman both cited the example of the PFNet service that was set up in the Solomon Islands, using simple low-cost technology, as an initiative to facilitate information flow.

“I read with interest some time back that the Government Communications Unit has started publishing more information on PFNet to keep the public informed about what is being done from the capital. These are the kind of simple initiatives Pacific Island governments and parliaments can look to if they are interested in practically implementing the right to information,” he said.

The Forum Secretariat’s Regional Governance Adviser, Dr Henry Ivarature thanked Prime Minister Sikua for hosting the first ever freedom of information workshop for Pacific Island Government policy makers in the region.

“It is support at the highest level of government that provides clear direction for development partners, donors, civil society organisations and other stakeholders interested in the pursuit of good governance mechanisms in Forum Member countries.”

Dr Ivarature hoped the participants would lift freedom of information onto the political agenda in their own countries.

“Getting freedom of information onto the agenda is the difficult and hardest challenge, aside from getting the basics right for freedom of information laws to function effectively.”

He said the Forum Secretariat in partnership with other stakeholders such as the UNDP Pacific Centre will do its best to assist with both resources and follow up on the development and implementation of freedom of information policies in the Pacific.

The workshop which is attended by thirty participants ends on Wednesday, July 2.


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