Friday, September 28, 2018
Inclusive, just and strong institutions are the three pillars a healthy democracy is built on. But are these pillars sufficient? The answer is no. They need to be maintained carefully. Any thriving democracy is built on citizen participation; to hold governments accountable and exert influence over decisions that affect people’s lives.

Providing citizens with access to information is an essential requirement in this regard. Well-informed, critical citizens are the transformative power behind democracies, or as was said during the celebration of the day by UNESCO: 'If information is power, then access to information is empowerment.' Public access to information builds autonomous and resilient people, that are empowered to shape their own development.

Striking examples

In Indonesia, Tempo Magazine enables citizens to keep state institutions accountable. Last year, the magazine reported on the widespread corruption in the Sukamiskin prision complex: one of the most well-known prisons across the country. Recently, this investigation led to the arrest of the head of the prison on bribery charges by the Indonesian authorities. In Bangladesh, large parts of the inhabitants have trouble reading and writing. Local radio stations enable people in isolated parts of the country to know what is going on around them. They can use this knowledge to take part in public debates and influence decision-making. In Zambia, vulnerable women in townships are taught how to make short video´s and audio reports with their mobile phone on issues they are confronted with. These stories have contributed in holding the local government accountable for failing to supply water, health-care and education.

These examples are why we should become serious about public access to information. Not just today, on the Universal Day of Access to Information (IDUAI), but also in practice in prioritizing access to information throughout the global agenda on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).