A tool to combat corruption gains ground

14 October 2014

Source: Today (Singapore)
Source type: Newspaper
Published on: 05 Oct 2010

BRUSSELS - In Hungary, giving citizens the right to obtain information has allowed them to question and even expose several million-dollar corruption scandals and discrepancies within government.

This includes ongoing allegations in a $670-million purchase of fighter jets from a Swedish company and a 1995 incident in which Hungarian authorities bought electricity from private agencies without a public tender.

Besides being a basic human right, the right to information is an important tool toward combating corruption, Mr Adam Foldes, legal officer at Transparency International's Hungarian chapter said in a lead-up event to the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Brussels. As more information becomes available online, he said, people will demand greater transparency and develop greater awareness of their right to question and receive answers.

For developing nations, this opportunity to engage and give opinions will help in nation-building and stabilise people's trust in their leaders, added Mr Foldes at a two-day workshop that began Saturday, organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation

Participants from Asia and Europe agreed that having access to public information was key to an efficient administration, instilling trust in decision makers and promoting economic growth.

Countries in Europe are at different stages of implementing the right to information, while awareness is gradually rising in Asia.

There has been greater interest in this as people recognise its benefits and start to pressure their governments to disclose information, said Mr Allan Alegre of Foundation for Media Alternatives.

The executive director of the non-governmental organisation added that "the right to information is the oxygen of democracy", but the challenges in implementing it come from threats by profit-making corporations or governments that strive to hold onto their power.

Cambodia is one country where - even though livelihood is still the main concern - people are gradually beginning to understand the concept and benefits of the right to information, said Mr Neb Sinthay of Cambodian NGO, the Advocacy and Policy Institute.

Having knowledge protects them, for instance, from being overcharged by others such as errant public healthcare providers or government school operators.

With Cambodia having passed an anti-corruption law in March, Mr Neb is hopeful the government will eventually adopt legislature on the right to information.

"This will help to eradicate corruption and push the country forward. This right is important, especially if we want to advance in this globabilised world and rapidly changing society," he added.