Vietnam passes Access to Information Law

By Hoang Thuy, Vo Hai, Vuong Anh   April 5, 2016 | 09:11 pm PT
Vietnam’s lawmakers approved legislation on the Access to Information Law during a meeting today, making Vietnam the third country in Southeast Asia to have recognized the public’s right to information.

National Assembly deputies passed the law.

The law was backed by 437 of the 448 deputies who cast their votes on April 6. Vietnam's Law on Access to Information will come into effect on July 1, 2018.

According to the law, all citizens are equal and there will be no discrimination in the right to access information . The information provided must be accurate and complete. The provision of information must be timely, transparent, accurate and convenient for citizens, while following the process and procedures prescribed by the law.

All information released must have been previously declassified by the government.

The Access to Information Law also specifies information that citizens cannot access, including state secrets, information with important content in politics, national defense and security, foreign affairs, economy, science, technology and other areas regulated by the law.

Citizens will not be given access to information if it could harm national defense and security, international relations, public order, social morality, public health, or the lives and property of others. They are also not allowed to access information containing business secrets and details of internal meetings and documents.

The law encourages state agencies to provide information they have obtained where possible.

The draft of Vietnam's Access to Information Law was first put before the Standing Committee in August 2015.

Since then, 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.

In previous meetings, many deputies agreed that the right of access to information was crucial as a requirement for Vietnam’s further global integration while the demand for information transparency increases.

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.

Deputy Chairman of the NA Huynh Ngoc Son said there are many issues that need to be publicized that have so far remained confidential.

“For example, the health of state officials traveling overseas should not be considered confidential. Rumors will start if this information is not publicized which may stir social instability,” Son said.

“If an invitation to a meeting is considered confidential, what exactly can we publicize?” Chairman of the NA’s Law Committee Phan Trung Ly said. “There must be a list of information that cannot be made public outlined in the law.”

Around 100 countries have issued laws on access to information. The first to recognize this public right was Sweden in 1766, while other countries didn't start to include it in their laws until the 90s.

The countries to have passed laws on access to information in Asia are Thailand (1997), South Korea (1996), Japan (2001), India (2005), China (2007) and Indonesia (2008).

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