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Editorial: A long way to go

The right of access to information is essentially the lifeblood of an informed citizenry because otherwise, in the absence of information, people remain in dark and unaware regarding their government’s performance. Afghanistan has made considerable progress since the Access to Information (ATI) Law was approved by the president in 2014 and then the Oversight Commission on Access to Information (OCAI) was formed in October 2015 – which was tasked to oversee the ATI Law’s execution in the government machinery. Meanwhile, Afghanistan secured first place among 123 countries on right to information laws in 2018. During a recent gathering, celebrating the International Day for the Universal Access to Information (commonly called the Access to Information Day) – which is an international day of recognition held on 28 September every year – the OCAI informed of an online system in all government organizations by 2020, whereby people would be able to receive answers to their demands, questions and complaints through the internet. In spite of all this, Afghan citizens and media still face the challenge of ATI as the government has failed to properly implement the law and uphold the tenets of open governance in order to enhance accountability. The Deputy Information and Culture Minister Sayed Aqa Fazel himself admits that 60 government institutions have not been able to share information with the public. The Journalist Safety Committee has voiced concern over many organizations not providing information to people and media outlets as well, something which signifies that the ATI Law has still not been properly executed.

In pursuit of greater information transparency, the information laws are supposed to allow access of the general public to data held by national governments; however, all this is contingent upon the proper implementation of the law and oversight on it. This recent announcement of development is laudable; however, there is a long way to go until Afghanistan arrives at fully practicing and entitling journalists and citizens to their right of ATI. The commission is a huge facility for journalists as it helps reporters gain easy ATI and comes in handy in case of denial to ATI but there have been consistently accusations against some high ranking government officials, who reportedly create hurdles to their quest for ATI. This situation underlines the law in question is far cry from achieving the intended results as of yet. In our unfortunate corruption-tainted society, sharing information should be the top priority. A lack of ATI is like a barrier that impinges journalists’ work and keeps the public in dark. The government should further step up efforts in this regard to further and properly facilitate ATI which would in return facilitate media to help in improving good governance, eradicating administrative corruption and providing an opportunity for accountability. Therefore, Afghanistan still needs to travel a long journey in order to make the right of ATI institutionalized as a value in our society and change into a culture.

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