Ensure Transparency and Access to Information

Transparency, accountability and reliability have become universally recognized key operational principles for the good governance of public administration. In effect, transparency and access to information are essential components of a rights-based social protection system. To effectively guarantee transparency, information should be available, accessible and disseminated among the population. In particular, transparency and access to information are crucial in ensuring access and participation, and can contribute to reducing or preventing corruption, clientelism and inefficiency. Transparency thus goes hand-in-hand with accountability. If rights holders are unaware of government rules, and indeed are not able to observe the implementation of social protection programmes in accordance with those rules, their ability to recognize violations and voice objections will be constrained. Furthermore, lack of transparency may impede the dissemination of information about results and undermine public support for continued and/or increased investment in social protection programmes.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ General Comment 19  recommends that transparency be integral to national social security programmes and action plans. The ILO’s Recommendation No. 202 (para 3j) echoes the need to ground the financial management and general administration of social security systems in the principles of transparency and accountability.  For example, when formulating and implementing national social security strategies, States should raise awareness about the strategies and put in place information programmes (para 14f). Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) notes that the right to freedom of expression includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information from the State.

To comply with the obligations in the ICCPR, which many States have adopted, social protection interventions should have mechanisms in place to facilitate requests for information and public officials should have the capacity to process them and reply promptly and comprehensively. Information on social protection programmes must be disseminated by culturally appropriate and accessible channels, and be adapted to the needs of the most vulnerable sectors of society. Transparency must be a fundamental element of all aspects of social protection programmes, including selection methods, eligibility criteria, benefit levels and complaint and redress mechanisms.

Transparency and access to information are essential components of a rights-based social protection system. In particular, they are crucial in ensuring access and participation, and can contribute to reducing or preventing corruption, clientelism and inefficiency. Transparency thus goes hand-in-hand with accountability. If rights holders are unaware of government rules, and indeed are not able to observe the implementation of social protection programmes in accordance with those rules, their ability to recognize violations and voice objections will be constrained. Recommendation No. 202 (para 14e) sets out that governments should raise awareness about social protection floors and their strategies for the extension of social security, including through social dialogue. Furthermore, lack of transparency may impede the dissemination of information about results and undermine public support for continued and/or increased investment in social protection programmes. (See access to accountability)

Personal information about rights holders must also be handled with the utmost care so as to ensure that the right to access public information does not breach the right to privacy. Collecting and processing information on beneficiaries must be done in accordance with internationally accepted human rights standards of privacy and confidentiality. (See respect of privacy)

Further, gender inequalities and circumstances specific to vulnerable groups, such as elderly persons or people with disabilities, can result in access to important information being restricted, and their ability to participate in decision making being limited. As such, sensitivity to the differing life circumstances of men and women, as well as those of marginalized people and communities, must be a priority when building transparency and access to information into a social protection programme.

Expert Commentaries

A Rejoinder to ‘Pro-Poor and Pro-Development Transparency’

Charles Lwanga-Ntale, Africa Regional Director at Development Initiatives

Legal Cases

Affordable Housing in South Africa

Nature of the Case:  The case concerns a landlord’s profit-making by levying electrical service charges on tenants over and above the rent and the actual cost of electricity they consumed. The court characterized the Rental Housing Tribunal’s ruling in the initial complaint as administrative action and reviewed it to determine whether it was fair and […]

Equal access to health and family planning information for all women in Hungary

The communication was filed with regards to the alleged forced sterilization of an ethnic Roma woman by medical staff pursuant to an emergency caesarian section that was required to remove a deceased fetus. The Committee found that previous medical care, the poor medical condition of the victim, A.S., upon arrival at the hospital, short time […]

Access to information about beneficiaries to ensure social accountability of state decisions

Summary: CIPPEC (Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento ) has been denied access to information concerning the beneficiaries of subsidies and social cash transfer programs in 2006 and 2007. The Supreme Court considered that accessing such data has a clear public interest, since it enables social accountability on how competent public […]

Resources

The Human Rights Approach to Social Protection

This report sets out to elaborate and promote a human rights framework for social protection, identifying best practices and disseminating lessons learned. It provides an in-depth analysis of the application of central human rights principles of the human rights framework – equality and non-discrimination (including accessibility, acceptability, affordability and the incorporation of the gender perspective), participation, transparency […]