The President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, sent last week the long-awaited draft Access to Information Bill to the Brazilian National Congress. This is an important development that gives concrete form to the federal government's stated commitment to adopt specific right to information legislation.
The bill seeks to implement Article 5 of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, which guarantees the right to information.
The draft bill fulfils a commitment made by President Lula during his campaign for re-election in 2006, as well as historical demands by a range of civil society actors that have been calling for legislation to give proper effect to the constitutional guarantee. The bill will now be reviewed by the two houses of Congress.
The bill includes a number of positive measures, such as a list of information that must be disseminated on a proactive basis by public bodies, an obligation to respond to requests for information within 20 days, and coverage of information held not only by the executive, but also the legislative and the judicial branches of government.
However, the text could still be significantly improved. A key problem is the failure of the bill to establish an independent administrative oversight body to handle complaints and to promote effective implementation of the new law, a measure that has proven essential to successful opening up of government in other countries.
International organization Article 19, which promotes freedom of expression worldwide, released a note saying that it welcomes the Brazilian government initiative as an important step towards promoting greater transparency in government.
It lamented however that a piece of legislation designed to promote greater participation was not the subject of broad consultation with citizens and civil society organizations before being sent to Congress.
The group called on the Brazilian Congress to make sure that there is extensive consultation with the public before the bill is passed into law. It also urged Brazilian parliamentarians to ensure that the law which is adopted complies with international standards.