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PFF commends lifting of gag rule

(PFF/IFEX) - 13 February 2011, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS - The repealing of gag-rules for public servants in Guam provides a new model for public accountability to inspire Pacific leaders, says the Pacific Freedom Forum, PFF.

The online media monitoring network says Guam's transparency directive, issued this month by the Governor of the US Pacific territory, Eddie Calvo, provides leadership and an example to other Pacific leaders on transparency and accountability measures as part of providing public information. The lifting of gag rules aimed at freeing up media and public access to government documents goes a step further - the directive allows public employees to share their opinions about their work.

Guam's Pacific Daily News media outlet reported Troy Torres, the governor's spokesman, saying the administration wanted to send the message that it's okay for all government employees to share their opinions.

"We applaud the move by Guam affirming the spirit of the human right to free expression and sharing of opinions within the guidelines of the public service, as a way for governments to best do the work of keeping those it is accountable to freely and factually informed. Allowing government employees to share not just their work, but their opinions on it, represents a major step forward for the Guam Sunshine Act on Freedom of Information introduced in 1987," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea.

In recent years, Guam has seen a growing tendency under previous adminstrations for a culture of self-censorship and secrecy to dominate the public service, with various gag rules controlling what could be shared.

While Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, and PNG (and previously Fiji) make specific references to the right to freedom of expression and/or access to official information in their respective constitutions, the Cook Islands is the only one to have a specific Freedom of Information legislation in place, enacted in February 2008, to facilitate access. Vanuatu is also keen to develop Freedom of Information legislation.

"The transparency directive from the Governor of Guam is news worth celebrating for the Pacific nations, and something many of us can hope will become a trend," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller of American Samoa. "It is a major leap past the culture of secrecy and power which too many public officials attach to the information held in government ministries around the region."

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