"Confidential information": The key question for Vietnam's access to information law

By Vuong Duc Anh   March 24, 2016 | 06:31 pm PT
"Confidential information": The key question for Vietnam's access to information law
Draft legislation that would give the public the right to access information was debated by the National Assembly Standing Committee this week, with delegates still divided on some aspects of the law.

The National Assembly and its Law Committee have been working on a number of issues in the proposed bill, including the scope of the legislation, defining what is deemed confidential information, who is responsible for providing the information and who is eligible to make a request.

One of the major issues was the definition of “confidential information” as there were concerns that some agencies may just stamp documents as classified if they don't want to release the requested information.

National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung said: “A law on access to information, without specifying what kind of information people are allowed or not allowed to access holds no value and is not transparent.”

Hung said as long as that question was not resolved, the law would not be passed.

Phan Trung Ly, chairman of the Law Committee, said access to information was necessary so people could protect their rights and legitimate interests. He said it was also a requirement for Vietnam’s further global integration.

Another point  discussed was the responsibility of parties other than state agencies in providing information to people if requested. This would include public-funded institutions and businesses funded by the state.

While some delegates expressed concern over making available “sensitive” information that could be used to cause social instability, other delegates said the law would be a step forward in transparency and social development.

Vietnam is not the only Southeast Asian country seeking to recognize the public's right to information. Thailand was an early starter with a constitutional right to information as well as an access to information law passed in 1997.

The Philippines has been working on a campaign for a Freedom of Information Act while it already has a right to information in its 1987 constitution.

There is also an emerging movement in Malaysia, and the beginning of discussions on access to information in Cambodia.

The draft for Vietnam's Access to Information Law was first put before the Standing Committee in August 2015. The vote on this draft is scheduled for April 6.

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