EghtesaadOnline: Transparency is the key to accountability and the duo form the basis of the rule of law.
“Free access to information is a necessity for having prudent citizens," says Vice President for Legal Affairs Laya Joneydi, according to Financial Tribune.
The prominent Iranian lawyer and associate professor of private law at the University of Tehran made the statement in an article published in the Persian-language daily Donya-e-Eqtesad. Excerpts follow:
Legislations introduced by the Legal Affairs Department of Vice Presideny’s Office are aimed at improving transparency, accountability, open society and open government.
In open societies, the government is expected to be responsive and tolerant; its political mechanisms transparent and flexible. Open government is the governing doctrine that holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and government proceedings to allow for effective public oversight. In its broadest construction, it opposes reason of state and other considerations, which have tended to legitimize extensive state secrecy.
For the United Nations system, the rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, independently adjudicated and consistent with international human rights norms and standards.
Since 2011-12, the Legal Affairs Department of Vice Presidency’s Office has put the ratification of several laws associated with improving transparency on its agenda. The first such laws are dubbed “Publication and Free Access to Information Act of [Iranian year] 1388 [March 2009-10]” which was followed by executive bylaws, guidelines and statutory instruments approved by the current government.
There are 100 countries, including Iran, where a law on free access to information is in force. The Legal Affairs Department has devised two important bills in recent years, namely “Transparency Bill”, which is under the consideration of a taskforce consisting of parliamentarians and government officials.
The second is named “Management of Conflict of Interest in Public Services Bill”, which was sent to the Legal Affairs Department in the Iranian year ending March 2018 and is now being weighed up by different government commissions.
One of the proposals associated with free access to information is a bill entitled “Improvement of Administrative Procedures in the Face of Corruption” first approved in the fiscal 2011-12 but is now undergoing a review.
Prevention of corruption is the approach utilized in writing laws related to free access to information compared with criminal justice-based approaches that are employed in devising laws aimed at punitive justice. For example, building up legal infrastructures as well as tangible social and cultural infrastructures is one of the leading causes of transparency bill.
These are bills on the interaction of a mature person with a mature society. The personal jurisdiction of the members of public has been expanded as per the transparency bill.
The three branches of the government, public agencies, institutions that are tasked with providing public services, such as Official Expert Organization (affiliated to Tehran Justice Department), the Medical Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Construction Engineering Organization and Iran Bar Association, as well as all publicly listed companies are subject to the transparency bill and have to provide public access to all information related to properties, assets, costs and details of their real estate. That’s also true about opportunities.
Data on investment and participation opportunities must become available to the public on the website [set up in line with promoting transparency].
The transparency bill must apply to all rules and regulations from those put forth by the parliament to other decision-making authorities such as the Iranian Cabinet or councils. The transparency of economic, social, cultural and educational activities has also been detailed under executive transparency.
The government has proposed the “Management of Conflict of Interest in Public Services Bill”, which centers on how a conflict of interest occurs. Conflict of interest does not lead to corruption per se, but it could give way to rent-seeking practices.
Improving transparency and expediency need to be balanced. Issues related to privacy and security of people’s lives and business must be safeguarded. These bills include articles that limit transparency in this regard.
What is important is not to let the goal slip out of sight. The main goal is to improve good governance, without causing agitation or passivity.
Countering corruption is a relative issue. At times, the fight against corruption might lead to the collapse of the country. What will become of the country when established structures are pulled apart?
We must have lost sight of the main objective, if transparency measures and information dissemination efforts fill people with dismay and result in their passivity.
The potential negative consequences of free access to information must be weighed up against its benefits in their entirety.