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International Standards on Transparency and Accountability

Democracy Reporting International 20714International Standards on Transparency and Accountability
Publié le 01-03-2014. Ajoutée le 7 avril 2017

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It seems intuitive that both accountability and transparency are key underpinnings and essential elements of democracy.

This is borne out by numerous authoritative statements about democracy adopted by different international actors. The core of transparency is the idea that State actors should operate in an open manner. A key means of delivering transparency is through the right to access information held by public bodies, or the right to information, and laws giving effect to this right now exist in some 100 countries globally. Transparency also incorporates a number of other elements, such as ensuring that meetings of public decision-making bodies are accessible to the public and the recent open data movement.

Accountability, for its part, is founded on the notion that State actors should bear responsibility for their decisions and actions. There are two dimensions to accountability. The first is answerability, or the obligation of State actors to provide information and an explanation to the public about their activities. However, this needs to be accompanied by enforcement, or mechanisms by which the information obtained via answerability can be made effective in extracting or obtaining accountability. Accountability can be either vertical – i.e. owed directly to the public – or horizontal – i.e. delivered through mechanisms which operate between public institutions.

Transparency and accountability are mutually reinforcing an interdependent inasmuch as a serious failure to deliver either one makes it almost impossible to deliver the other. There is also significant overlap between these concepts. This is particularly evident in the answerability dimension of accountability. However, there are important differences. Systems of enforcement for accountability go beyond transparency, while transparency requires openness that reaches into spheres well beyond those required for answerability.

International statements about accountability are, for the most part, rather general in nature, probably due to the fact that different countries have very different systems in place for ensuring accountability. At the same time, it is clear that there is a strong international law foundation for accountability, most particularly based on the right to participate in public affairs and to elect government. These rights also serve as a basis for transparency, although international courts and other bodies have more often based the right to information on the right to freedom of expression which, under international law, includes the right to seek and receive, as well as to impart, information and ideas.

 While, as noted, international standards have not defined in any detail the various elements of accountability, it is different for transparency, and specifically the right to information (RTI), where the following ten standards have been identified:

  •  Clear legal guarantees of the right
  • Broad application of the right
  • Proactive disclosure of important information
  • Open meetings of public decision-making bodies
  •  Clear procedures for processing requests for information
  •  A clear and narrow regime of exceptions
  • A system of appeals
  •  A system of sanctions and protections
  •  Measures to promote implementation
  •  Beyond RTI to open data

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