Institutionalizing Transparency: The Global Spread of Freedom of Information in Law and Practice
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Transparency has been hailed as the key to better governance. Access to government information empowers citizens, enables journalists, constrains politicians, and exposes corruption. Yet for precisely these reasons, transparency is highly political. Most political actors prefer secrecy to openness, and oppose constraints on their range of action. Yet in over eighty countries, political actors have supported passage of freedom of information (FOI) laws. Even further, in most countries these laws are implemented and enforced in practice. What explains the global spread of freedom of information in both law and practice? In order to understand the global spread of FOI laws, I offer a model of institutionalization in two stages. In the first stage, FOI laws institutionalize transparency in rules and procedures which are costly to weaken or revoke at a later date -- thereby making government commitments to transparency more credible. In the second stage, FOI laws are implemented and routinized in regular practice. Only once doubly institutionalized will FOI laws be able to fulfill their promise of contributing to better governance. However, at both stages of institutionalization, political actors face powerful incentives to block adoption, take advantage of global norms, or decouple law from practice. Passage of FOI laws will only be compatible with domestic political incentives when uncertainty over future power makes their institutionalization a boon, rather than a liability. Even though there are costs to failing to implement or enforce a FOI law, these costs can still be outweighed by other factors, leading to "window dressing" laws which exist in name only. And yet, even weak FOI laws can empower new actors, and can be strengthened by local capacity building by transnational advocates. I support this model with individual quantitative studies of the timing of FOI passage across countries, and their strength both in law and practice, supplemented with illustrative case studies. The results of each chapter emphasize both the importance of domestic political interests, and the roles played at different stages by transnational advocacy networks. Finally, I show that FOI laws can have meaningful impacts, leading to increased inflows of foreign direct investment in developing countries.
- Political science