The Tunisian Access to Information Law, adopted in 2016 and generally considered as one of the most progressive laws of its kind globally, has significantly advanced the right of citizens to obtain information from publicly funded institutions, but a lot remains to be done to consolidate this change. Promising ways to do so include increasing awareness among Tunisians on how they can benefit from the related laws and institutions and using technology to speed up communication and case-handling. Moreover, the government must ensure that all of its institutions comply with the access of information law. These were key conclusions of a major event organized by the Access to Information Authority (AIA) in Tunis on 26 March 2019, which was supported by DRI and UNESCO in Tunis.
AIA was created two years ago to oversee compliance with the access to information law and has issued more than 250 rulings in response to over 750 requests. In one of its first cases, AIA ruled in favour of I WATCH, a local transparency and anti-corruption group which had requested to obtain a document from the National Environmental Protection Agency. For many panelists, the success of the Access to Information Law largely depends on AIA’s ability to compel responses from uncooperative institutions.
The event, which gathered over 200 people, was held on the National Day of Access to Information under the title “The Right of Access for Information: Gains and Challenges” and focused on two major topics: the assessment of the legal system governing the right to access of information, and gains and challenges in the process of building a “culture of access to information” in Tunisia. Experts from AIA, national and international institutions, civil society and media showcased their engagement on access to information, presented their opinions on the relevant legal, institutional and jurisdictional systems in Tunisia, and gave examples of how they have worked with AIA to obtain information from public bodies. The participants, mainly citizens and civil servants in charge of access to information in various ministries, discussed their experiences with the panelists.
National media widely reported the event which was also much discussed on social media. Many participants commended that sign language translation was available throughout the day, thus ensuring the right of access to information for deaf Tunisians as well.
DRI supported the event in the framework of its project “Support to Democratic Governance in Tunisia”, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.