This contribution is published as part of the UNRISD resource platform for practitioners and policy makers Linking Social Protection and Human Rights. This part of the platform is a collection of expert contributions and commentary from advocates, practitioners, policy makers and academics sharing practical guidance and thought-provoking commentary on their experiences with a human rights approach to social protection. Please share your thoughts on this article in the comments space below.
You many also be interested in the rejoinder to this commentary by Charles Lwanga-Ntale from Development Initiatives.
Issa Luna Pla
is a researcher at the UNAM Legal Research Institute, Mexico.
Pro-poor and pro-development transparency laws and policies
Access to information laws are not being effectively utilized by the poor—the most technologically marginalized population—to exercise their rights to social protection. Across countries we learn that sectors using these laws are predominantly business and enterprise, government, scholars, students, NGOs, and journalists. This segregation is not only due to barriers to the physical access to information and the cost burden on petitioners in the access to information laws, but also because of factors such as levels of education, literacy and internet literacy; a lack of knowledge of government activities, technical language and institutional structure; lack of voice and self-esteem; low levels of trust in government; and lack of research ability.
Pro-poor access to information legislation must achieve two goals: (1) allow macroaccountability and transparency in public spending on social programmes and aid resources; and (2) bring government information to the poor in a physically, intellectually and socially adequate way that meets their information poverty needs.
The first goal has an indirect impact on poor people. The process of accessing information, and the analysis of data provided, requires a high level of knowledge and expertise by the individual, in order to succeed in combating corruption and promoting accountability in development funds. ECOSOC, the UNDP, and several international treaty organisms, such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, have insisted on the obligation of governments to produce information that is disaggregated according to gender and ethnic characteristics, create statistics, and make such information available. This information may have an impact on the definition of social inclusiveness public policies, providing assistance to those most in need and defining public expenditure on social development.
The second goal has a direct impact on the lives of the poor and is likely to trigger pro-development empowerment in individuals. Information poverty contributes to the economic poverty of individuals, and access to information policies and legislation must address this problem in a targeted fashion to have an impact on social protection. The way information is produced and held by governments does not necessarily meet the information needs of the poor, neither does it enable them to participate in social progress and development. Therefore, access to information is fully realized when the need for information, the possibility to absorb the time and financial cost, and the technical capacities are aligned.
Access to information for accountability and anti-corruption goals in social protection policies can be tackled through legislation with specific obligations for federal and local governments to:
- build data sets or information kits related to the international responsibilities of the country based on human rights treaties;
- proactive transparency of information regarding administration of resources devoted to social programmes;
- proactively disseminate information on development goal results and poverty alleviation indicators;
- present information in a constructive manner, according to the principles of accessibility and usability; and
- open data on the resultsof social programmes and provide the information needed to verify that programmes are not being used as electoral trade-offs.
Those requesting pro-development information can be the poor, but tend to be specialized agencies working on poverty, NGOs, and interest groups. The process of access to information, in many modern laws, follows the principles of readiness, being free-of-charge, and using internet procedures with reliable systems. Even when these standards are implemented by governments (such as in Mexico), the most vulnerable and marginalized are neither participating in accountability systems nor receiving the information that they need for social integration and the eradication of poverty. Proactive transparency rather than simply providing procedural and physical access therefore seems to be the most effective approach.
Transparency and poverty reduction
Policies for proactive transparency of information are a solution when government information is intended to have an impact on poverty reduction. Pro-poor access to information laws and policies must include specific obligations for federal and local governments such as:
- Proactive transparency of information regarding procedures to receive resources from social programmes, rules of operation, application conditions and deadlines. In other words, rather than the individual having to make her or his way to the information, information kits are delivered to him or her through the traditional media and community agents.
- Create information kits on food programmes, labour market policies, health services and public education options. In this information policy, the aim is not only to educate the population about where and when to find food resources, a hospital or a job. Instead the aim is to present job opportunities in the area and government resources to local populations and communities; to inform them about food policies and how can they be accessed, and about government programmes on how to grow crops at home; and to present them relevant data needed to choose a school or a health centre according to quality proxies, nearness, and economic viability.
A big challenge for governments to comply with pro-poor information policies lies in inter-institutional coordination and mainstreaming into other government programmes. In terms of the technology to access information, key challenges abound in building or working with existing internet community centres, whether public or private ones, like internet cafés. This implies the need for a national digital strategy to provide access to information to communities with limited accessibility. More quantitative research is needed to identify communities’ information needs; prove the impact of pro-development information on the livelihood of the poor, and identify suitable means of communication to reach target populations.
Luna Pla, Issa. 2012. Information Poverty and the Right to Access to Information. A Capabilities Related Issue
. Revista Transparencia y Privacidad, IFAI. No. 2. Mexico. http://www.transparenciayprivacidad.org.mx/numero_2/articulos/ing/Art_3-Ing.pdf
Luna Pla, Issa. 2013. Empoderamiento pro-desarrollo humano con información pública.
Derecho Comparado de la Información 21. UNAM: Mexico. http://biblio.juridicas.unam.mx/revista/pdf/DerechoInformacion/21/art/art3.pdf
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Issa Luna Pla is a researcher at the UNAM Legal Research Institute and has a PhD in the right to information from Western University, Sinaloa, Mexico and an MA in human rights from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, UK. She worked previously as a researcher with the Programme on Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCLMP) at Oxford University (U.K.). Her published books include:
Issa Luna Pla has written numerous articles in specialized journals and prestigious newspapers.
- El Derecho de Acceso a la Información Pública, UIA-Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Mexico 2002;
- Agenda Setting de los Medios, UIA-Western University, Mexico 2003;
- Movimiento social del derecho de acceso a la información pública en México, Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, UNAM, Mexico, 2009.