Accountability and Transparency

Two of the major values underlying the FOI concept are that of accountability and transparency. In the context of the individual dealing with a public body, FOI is concerned primarily with administrative accountability. This is the process of ensuring that public service activities and, in particular, the exercise of decision-making powers are carried out not only in a proper legal manner but in a manner consistent with fairness and good administrative practice.

The notion of transparency is based on the assumption that citizens are capable of interpreting information and reaching sensible conclusions. This is in contrast to the view that policy development and decision-making in public affairs should be the preserve of those "insiders" who "understand" the issues and who alone should decide who should be consulted. In this latter model, consultation is the privilege of the few and the views of others, whether ordinary citizens or the media, are ignored or dismissed as a hindrance to the process.

In essence therefore, FOI generally gives any person who is affected, either directly or indirectly, by an act of a public body, the right to be given reasons for the act and to be informed of any findings on any material issues of fact made for the purposes of the act. When people have access to information, and understand how to use it, they become empowered.