Yemeni citizens should have access to information, say MPs [Archives:2008/1166/Local News]

June 23 2008

Almigdad Mojalli
SANA'A, June 21 ) Many Parliament members (MPs) and journalists affirmed they would endorse a draft law ensuring Yemeni citizens the right to access government information. They said that the law will be an essential step in fighting corruption and keeping the government accountable.

In a workshop held last Thursday, MP Sakhr Al-Wajeh, the head of Parliament's Anti-Corruption Organization, said, “If we ask many MPs and Consultative Council Members about the oil production statistics, we will find contradictory figures from unofficial sources,” emphasizing the importance of the prospective law.

“Sometimes we find that the Central Bank bulletins report certain figures, while the Ministry of Oil and Minerals come up with different figures for the same statistic,” he added.

MP Ali Ashal affirmed that there is no Yemeni law which applies to obtaining information yet, even for institutions. “In the past the government raised the motto, 'Be content that the government knows,' but now we want to change this motto and insist that citizens know,” said Ashal.

The head of the Culture and Information Committee in Parliament, Ahmed Al-Swail, stated that many MPs will support the draft law, while head of the Political Forum Ali Saif Hasan affirmed the importance of keeping information classified. However, neither said exactly when Parliament will discuss the draft.

Another attendee, MP Mohammed Al-Dhahri, said that the main obstacle is in the law's implementation. According to the draft law, all citizens have the right to obtain information about any authority except for information related to the security and defense of the country.

The draft law also stipulates that any employee who prevents information from being published will be sentenced to one year in prison, and anyone who gives misleading information should receive a three month sentence.

In 1995, a presidential decree was issued regarding constructing the National Center of Information, which was supposed to provide citizens with information.

However, Khalid Al-Anesi, the executive manager of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD), stated that the decree didn't include provisions to organize the circulation of and access to information. Al-Anesi pointed out that the decree didn't include stipulations obliging the center to make its information and data free for everybody.

Al-Anesi considered the decree an organizing decision which doesn't have any legal power. While revising the official newspaper, Al-Anesi discovered that the decree hadn't even been endorsed by Parliament.

According to Ashal, there are three authorities that are required to provide information: the National Center of Documents, the National Center of Information and the Central Census Apparatus.