Bill promises to improve government accountability

Parliament completes first reading of draft information access law

BAGHDAD – In a much-demanded move towards enhancing transparency and public access to information, the Iraqi parliament has completed the first reading of the draft Information Access Law.

This legislation, aimed at bolstering public access to information, was part of a series of legislative activities conducted on Wednesday.

The draft law enshrines access access to information for both citizens and non citizens. It is designed to enable societal benefits through the widespread dissemination of information, support academic research, and uphold the principles of freedom of expression and publication.

The legislation outlines a comprehensive framework for formation of an organization dedicated to serving freedom of information requests. It specifies the procedures and regulations governing the acquisition of information.

It also sets clear boundaries on what information can be accessed, explicitly prohibiting access to sensitive details pertaining to armed forces, international communications, classified documents, ministerial discussions, and economic and trade information. These are all significant qualifiers. Given the position of armed forces – including the Popular Mobilization Forces – in public life or Iraqi politics, it can be assumed that many requests would have been submitted on this topic.

The exclusions could become a barrier for journalists, academics, and researchers conducting investigations into governance.

The draft law emphasizes the need for effective dissemination of information, ensuring that relevant data is shared efficiently with the public. It mandates the appointment of specialized personnel within relevant authorities to handle requests for information, thereby streamlining the process.

The procedures for requesting information are outlined, from the submission of requests to the timely response by the head of the relevant authority or their authorized representative, which should occur within five working days from the date of application.

The legislation imposes a proactive obligation on authorities to respond, with a failure to do so within the stipulated time being considered a rejection of the request.

The draft law also has provisions for urgent requests that the information should be provided promptly, with a maximum period of three days for information necessary to protect the life or health of an individual, extendable under certain conditions.

It requires requesters to bear the expenses associated with obtaining the information. It is said that this provides a balance between public access to information and the practicalities of providing such information. However, some may argue that it increases barriers to entry for information seekers, especially those with reduced means. In the United Kingdom, freedom of information laws set a financial cap for processing requests, with public authorities not charging for information requests costing less than £450 ($560) to process (£600 for central government), aiming to balance access to information with the cost of providing it, thus minimizing barriers for those seeking information.

This legislative development was part of a broader parliamentary order paper, including the first reading of a draft law to repeal certain Revolutionary Command Council decisions, finalizing a report on the draft law for registering births and deaths, and discussions on Iraq’s ratification of international aviation protocol amendments and the first amendment to the Property Claims Commission Law No. (13) of 2010.