New Law on Access to Information
The Law on Access to Information (the Law) was passed in April this year with a view to laying legal grounds for the exercise of one of fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution.
The Law, consisting of five chapters with 37 articles, institutionalizes Article 25 of the 2013 Constitution and incorporates a number of provisions of relevant treaties to which Vietnam is a contracting party. It provides the exercise of the right of access to information and, at the same time, defines responsibilities and obligations of state agencies in guaranteeing citizens’ right of access to information.
The Law, which will come into force on July 1, 2018, contains a provision clearly defining information as news and data which are created by state agencies in the course of performing their functions and duties and contained in available documents, dossiers or materials in the form of handwritten, printed or electronic copy, picture, photo, drawing, tape, disc, or video or audio recording or in other forms.
Principles of guaranteeing the right of access to information
According to Article 4 of the Law, all citizens are equal and no one will be discriminated against in the exercise of the right of access to information.
Information will be provided in an accurate, complete, timely, transparent and convenient manner, while still following the law-established order and procedures.
Restriction of access to information will be accepted only when such is provided by a law for the reason of national defense and security, social order and safety, social ethics or community well-being. On the other hand, the exercise of the right of access to information must not infringe upon national interests as well as lawful rights and interests of others.
Under the Law, citizens may access nearly all information created by state agencies. There are just few cases in which access to information is disallowed or subject to certain conditions.
First, citizens may not access information classified as state secrets, including information with important contents relating to politics, national defense and security, foreign relations, economy, science and technology and other fields. Second, they will not be given access to information the access to which could harm the interests of the State, adversely affect national defense and security, international relations, social order and safety, social ethnics or community well-being, or damage the life, living or property of other persons. Third, they will be disallowed to access information containing work secrets or details of internal meetings of state agencies and documents drafted by state agencies serving their internal affairs.
Meanwhile, conditionally accessible information includes information relating to personal, family or business secrets. Under the Law, access to such information is permitted only if it is agreed by concerned persons. However, in case of necessity for the purpose of guaranteeing public interests or community well-being, competent authorities may provide information relating to a person’s personal, family or business secrets as prescribed by relevant laws without having to ask for agreement from such person.
Information which has been made public by state agencies is freely accessible. Besides, citizens may request state agencies to provide them with the information they need. In this case, requesters will be required to pay expenses for printing, copying and sending information sheets.
In case many persons working at an organization or enterprise or being members of a mass organization wish to be provided with the same information, they may file their request through their organization, enterprise or mass organization.
Particularly, foreigners residing in Vietnam may request the provision of information directly concerning their rights and obligations.
Form and time of information disclosure
Accessible information will be published on e-portals and websites of state agencies, the mass media and Cong bao (Official Gazette) and posted up at the offices of state agencies and other places. Information may also be disclosed through citizen receptions, press conferences, press releases and activities of spokespersons of state agencies.
In case a specialized law requires the application of a specific form of disclosure, such form will be used. In other cases, based on practical conditions, state agencies responsible for disclosure of information may select one or more than one of the above-forms of information disclosure.
The time of disclosure of information on each field must comply with relevant law. In case of unavailability of legal provisions on the time of disclosure of information in a specific field, competent authorities will disclose information within five working days after creating it.