We bring together information on the legal frameworks for the right to information from more than 100 countries.
You are here: Home Resources FOI in Action

FOI in Action

In this section you will find the short descriptions of interesting stories and case studies organized by countries, where Freedom of Information helped individuals as well as organizations to achieve their goals. The stories below address a range of issues starting from access to information about education, and ending with information regarding human rights crimes and abuses. Each of them is a good example of how freedom of information could be used to address different types of problems. We will continue adding more stories and of course, your input in this process will be greatly appreciated. Please, send us successful stories from your country to make this page even more diverse. In order to contribute, please click here.

 

CANADA

Released audio tape forced the government to react to violations

If not FOI, the details of the following story would never have been publicized and the government would not have been held reliable. Audio recording obtained under the Canada’s Access to Information Act proved that police used offensive and racist language towards unarmed protestors on September 6, 1995 and what is more, removal of the demonstration resulted in the death of one of the protestors. After this disclosure, the police made an official apology and started investigation. [1]

Detailed information can be found here

 

INDIA

 

FOI to stop corruption regarding food subsidies

1. The right to information can advance people’s struggles for accountable government and equitable public expenditure. In India, human rights activists filed an information request using the Delhi RTI Act to obtain a copy of the documents recording the distribution of rations to poor people under the government’s Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).  The records revealed that as much as 80 percent of the grain in the program was being sold on the black market for personal profit.  As a result of this discovery, the Delhi government ordered that the system be overhauled and that monitoring mechanisms be put in place. [2]

Detailed information can be found here

 

2. This story shows how the inhabitants of the villages in Rajasthan used freedom of information to detect inaccuracies in the implementation of the food program. Within the food program, inhabitants were entitled to get one food parcel form the so called ration dealers, who later on receive the reimbursement from the government. After requesting and analyzing the data submitted to the government by the ration dealers on the food distribution, population was able to spot a lot of inconsistencies between what the rational dealers claimed and what they had distributed. [3]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

How FOI helped to eliminate illegal actions and gave access to water

Inhabitants of Keolari village in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India also saw how powerful RTI can be. The problem of the villagers was caused by the official who cut their access to the well by constructing a house on a small plot of land adjacent to the well and a boundary wall around the well. While the inhabitants filed several complaints, their problem was addressed only after submission of the FOI request regarding the course of the complaints they had filed. [4]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

Influencing the decision making process

This story is a good example of how the decisions of the government could be influenced via FOI. As a result of the FOI request, the local businessman of Sunder Nagri, a district of New Delhi, learned that the local government did not even have a plan to dig sewers, albeit many promises were made. Based on the received information, the businessman demanded from the Indian capital’s Chief Minister to approve a budget for this matter. [5]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

Reducing the number of bribes

According to the widespread practice, officials were delaying the issuance of certain documents such as driving licenses and passports in order to receive a bribe. However, after the adoption of the Right to Information Act, people started using FOI to find out the reasons of the delay instead of giving out the bribes. The FOI requests resulted in the issuance of the documents.[6]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

Pension received in response to FOI request

This is a story how FOI helped Rataniya Bai to get the pension due to her. Despite of being registered as a beneficiary of the widow pension schemer, she did not get the pension. The situation changed only after submission of the FOI request.[7]

Detailed information can be found here.

FOI helps people to get houses due to them

1. This story is about a man who received the benefits from the government only with help of FOI. Majloom, a beneficiary of the Indira Awas Yojana scheme, had been waiting for a house for 5 years. However, only after requesting information on project implementation, did the government allocated money for his house and paid the first installment.[8]

Detailed information can be found here.

2. This is another successful story of getting benefits with help of FOI. Laxman Mandal and his family members who because of their serious health problems could not work and, were living in a kutcha house, were deprived of all benefits. Not until the submission of RTI request, did the government allocate money for the construction of their house.[9]

Detailed information can be found here.

Revealing corruption in the procurement procedure

This case study shows how FOI helps people to uncover corruption. Several citizens in India could prove the rumors of corruption about the largest coal producer of coal -South Eastern Coalfield Limited through the answers they received to their information requests. The results of the examination and analysis of the answers led to internal investigation of the company.[10]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

FOI helped to reveal World Bank’s negative interference

The World Bank gave a loan to the Delhi Jol board, a body that manages the supply of water to the residents of Delhi, to privatize the water supply service. Analysis of the procurement documents showed that the short listed company actually received a negative evaluation in comparison with other bidders and moreover it proved that the Word Bank interfered in the process by insisting on the selection of one consultant from a developing country. The short listed company was actually a multinational firm but it had a subsidiary firm registered in Kolkata which was presented as a local entity. Public criticism followed by the discovery, didn’t let the Delhi Jol board to proceed with the procurement. Instead they were forced to hold a public hearing to find other possible solutions to the problem.[11]

Detailed information can be found here

 

IRAN

FOI’s role in uncovering human rights violations in Iran

This is a case when FOI revealed human rights violations and raised awareness. It is argued that Iran has a long history of sentencing to death homosexuals, though Irani government has never accepted this fact. Brutal violations of homosexuals’ rights were proved when the Times journalist in UK, using the UK’s Freedom of Information Act,  requested minutes of a meeting of British and Iranian MPs that contained evidence of the violations.[12]

Detailed information can be found here

 

IRELAND

FOI for better nursing houses

The death of a 73 year lady in Leas Cross Nursing House in Dublin, became bases to question the treatment of residents in the state run nursing houses.  Based on the public documentation, the Irish Times found out that the Leas Cross Nursing House was registered despite of the health board’s inspectors’ negative assessment. Moreover, documentation proved that the government was aware of mistreatment taking place in the nursing house.  Following this discovery, the government promised and later introduced the legislation envisaging inspection regime for nursing houses. [13]

Detailed information can be found here

 

JAMAICA

FOI to protect rights of the child

The FOI law enabled civil society groups in Jamaica to collect information on the conditions of children’s homes and produce a report. The findings of the report which clearly illustrated the poor conditions and mistreatment of children, made government face the problems and take necessary steps.[14]

Detailed information can be found here

 

MEXICO

FOI for elimination of discrimination at work

In this case study, FOI requests revealed that hundreds of people were denied a job because of their health condition. This information was successfully used to challenge the constitutionality of the law.[15]

Detailed information can be found here

 

PERU

FOI and human rights crimes

This is a story where the three-judge panel in Peru made numerous references to the range of the U.S. declassified documents in the case against former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori. Although, the Court did not attribute the independent power of evidences to the documents obtained and submitted by the US non-profit organization National Security Archive, it analyzed them, contrasted with other information and used as the information for the final judgment. [16]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

PHILIPPINES

FOI to Impeach the President

In 2000, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) started journalistic investigation to shed light to the ongoing talks about President Estrada being involved in corruption. Requesting and examining different public information in one year led them to the findings that become the basis for the impeachment charges. [17]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

SLOVAKIA

The Supreme Court in favour of the right to a healthy environment

Large environmentalist group successfully challenged government’s refusal to disclose information on forest management plan.  Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of the applicants, not only was the information disclosed but amendments were introduced to the relevant act classifying forest management plan as public information.[18]

Detailed information can be found here

 

SOUTH AFRICA

Water problems in one of the villages in rural KwaZulu –Natal

Residences of Ntambanana, a small village in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, unlike other villagers nearby were not receiving the basic services including water and electricity.  As there was no water source nearby, they had to fetch water form the river. Activists from the village with the assistance of Open Democracy Advice Center (ODAC) submitted an information request to the municipality asking for the municipality’s plan regarding the water problem of the village. As a result of the information request, it turned out that the municipality had a short and a long term plan in respect of the problem. After two years from the submission of the request, as an interim measure, the municipality installed a new water tank in the village which was regularly refilled with water. At the same time, the municipality continued working towards the stable and long-term solution to the problem.[19]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

Housing problem in Durban

Despite many attempts, shack dwellers in Durban failed in getting their voices to reach the municipality. It was only after submitting an information request with assistance of ODAC that the municipality asked the dwellers for an extension to comply with the info request and gave out basic information. They received only the basic information, because the response showed that the municipality did not have a comprehensive housing plan. However, FOI request made government communicate with the dwellers. [20]

Detailed information can be found here

FOI spots discrepancies in providing Nevirapine

The South African government argued that because of lack of resources, they could not provide HIV-positive pregnant women with the drug that prevents transmission of the disease to the children.

Based on this information, in addition to the discrepancies found in the affidavits of the officials, the Courts regarded the present policy of the government as unreasonable and therefore ordered the government to supply hospitals with the drug.[21]

Detailed information can be found here

 

THAILAND

FOI for equal right to education

In Thailand mothers of school children who had been denied entrance to a state elementary school used the country’s RTI law to get access to the test scores of the children who were admitted, with names omitted for privacy. The scores revealed that more than a third of the children admitted had failed the entrance exam while students who had passed were denied admittance. Civil society can also expose instances in which a lack of good policy can leave some communities underserved. In most countries, the national census collects no data on the number of people with disabilities in the country making it impossible to ensure that there are enough services available to guarantee an equal right to education and health care, among other rights.[22]

Detailed information can be found here

 

UGANDA

FOI and Education

Survey of primary schools in Uganda disclosed that only 20 cents out of one dollar spent by the central government on education actually reached the schools. Rest of the money was captured by the local government. The situation was improved only after the government started publishing information on the monthly transfers to the districts which gave the schools and parents a chance to be informed and monitor the grant program.[23]

Detailed information can be found here.

 

UNITED KINGDOM

FOI ensuring equal pay for equal work

In 2006, the FOI request revealed that the BBC was violating the Equal Pay Act by having different salaries for men and women for the similar work. This disclosure forced the government to issue recommendations, and the BBC itself announced a plan of reviewing its salary policy.[24]

Detailed information can be found here

 

FOI helps to prove unnecessary expenses

This story shows the role of FOIA in the famous scandal about MP’s expenses which broke when the Daily Telegraph published documents showing unnecessary expenses. The scandal was continued when the High Court ordered the disclosure of MP’s expenses which in the end resulted in several resignations. Also, it was decided to set up an independent Parliamentary Authority with a supervision mandate.[25]

Detailed information can be found here and here

 

UNITED STATES

Public information as a tool

Horace Gee, an 87 year old citizen of US, although acknowledged eligible for medical assistance, received the care not in his house as he wished, but in an impersonal institution. His will to spend last years of his life in his own house was fulfilled with help of FOI. Information obtained under FOIA helped his attorneys to prove that as Horace Gee was eligible for the medical assistance program, he was entitled to receive the care in his house.[26]

Detailed information can be found here

 

More light on Guantanamo Bay

This story shows how the testimonies of 3 released detainees speaking about the harsh conditions and treatment in Guantanamo bay resulted in international pressure on the US government to release more information. Although, the US government refused to publicize the names of the detainees, it received an order from the Court to disclose not only the names but the pictures of detainees as well. [27]

Detailed information can be found here

 

 

 

 



[1] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, 2007, p. 84, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[2] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, p. 67, 2007, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[3] Access to Information as a Tool for Socio-Economic Justice, by Mukelani DimBa, 2008, available at http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/47179

[4] Capacity Building Workshop for Civil Society Organizations on the Right to Information Act , the workshop report, p. 22, 2005 , 18-19 May, available at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/india/states/bihar/capacity_building_workshop_muzaffarpur.pdf

[5] Information Law Lifts Indian Poor, by Mark Dummet, 2006, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6124898.stm

[6] Information Law Lifts Indian Poor, by Mark Dummet, 2006, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6124898.stm

[7] Capacity Building Workshop for Civil Society Organizations on the Right to Information Act , the workshop report, p. 28, 2005 , 18-19 May, available at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/india/states/bihar/capacity_building_workshop_muzaffarpur.pdf

[8] Capacity Building Workshop for Civil Society Organizations on the Right to Information Act , the workshop report, p. 27, 2005 , 18-19 May, available at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/india/states/bihar/capacity_building_workshop_muzaffarpur.pdf

[9] Capacity Building Workshop for Civil Society Organizations on the Right to Information Act , the workshop report, p. 27, 2005 , 18-19 May, available at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/india/states/bihar/capacity_building_workshop_muzaffarpur.pdf

[10] Capacity Building Workshop for Civil Society Organizations on the Right to Information Act , the workshop report, p. 24, 2005 , 18-19 May, available at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/india/states/bihar/capacity_building_workshop_muzaffarpur.pdf

[11] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, p. 96, 2007, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[12] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, p. 80, 2007, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[13] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, p. 75, 2007, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[14] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, 2007, p. 53, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[15] Press Release, March 19 2009, Fundar and Sonora Ciudadana, available at http://www.fundar.org.mx/boletines2009/20marzo2.htm

[16] Fujimori Found Guilty of Human Rights Crimes, by Kate Doyle, National Security Archive, 2009, available at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB274/index.htm

[17] Journalistic Legwork that Tumbled a President, Lars Mollero & Kack Jackson, available at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWBIGOVANTCOR/Resources/pcij_estrada.pdf

[18] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, p. 64, 2007, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[19] Access to Information As a Tool for Socio-Economic Justice, Mukelani Dimba, 2008. Conference paper for the International Conference on Right to Public Information organized by the Carter Center. available at http://www.opendemocracy.org.za/documents/section_file_detail/21

[20] The Fight for Open Democracy in South Africa, Open Democracy Advice Center

[21] Access to Information: an Instrumental Right for Empowerment, Article 19, ADC, p. 31, 2009, available at http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/ati-empowerment-right.pdf

[22] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, p. 61, 2007, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[23] The Power of Information: Evidence from Public Expenditures Tracking Surveys, by  Ritva Reinika and Jakob Svensson, 2003, available at http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/pe/PEAMCourse04/RitvaBackground3.doc

[24] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, p. 71, 2007, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf

[25] Q&A: MP expenses row explained, BBC News, 2010, available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/8301443.stm; Also,  MPs lose bid to hide expense claims from journalists by PA Mediapoint, 2008,  available at: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=41186

[26] Access to Information: an Instrumental Right for Empowerment, Article 19, ADC, p. 28, 2009, available at http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/ati-empowerment-right.pdf

[27] Our Rights Our Information, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, p. 91, 2007, available at  http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/our_rights_our_information.pdf