Pacific countries invited to a United States-led democracy summit have agreed to a US Freedom of Information Act that pledges to increase media development, engagement and training in democratic principles.
The summit discussed how to best strengthen democracy within a fight against corruption, authoritarianism, and the promotion of respect for human rights. It was seen as America’s opportunity to connect with Pacific leaders against the backdrop of China’s rising influence in the Pacific.
US president Joe Biden said during his first press conference after taking office earlier this year that the world was witnessing “a battle between the utility of democracies in the twenty-first century and autocracies”.
The practical benefit for citizens from the freedom of information act is that the legislation would categorically state that all persons have the right to information from their government.
The virtual two-day summit that fulfilled a US presidential election pledge last year was attended by more than 100 invited free or partly-free democracies including 12 nations in the Pacific.
Federated States of Micronesia have been the most outspoken in favour of the summit across Friday and Saturday while admitting a common agreement among all parties was imperfect in both design and reality.
President David Panuelo announced at the summit the signing of a national anti-corruption strategy after also recognising the recent transparency international report on corruption in the Pacific.
“(We’re) committed to taking positive action to positively change citizens perceptions,” he said.
A significant threat to the country’s democracy remains its lack of a free media that Mr Panuelo also recognised.
“We have only one newspaper in our country that has limited staff and no legal right to information from government. This is unsustainable and must change.”
Nauru president Lionel Aingimea, in a statement to the summit said, “It is democracy which vests the supreme power to the people to directly or indirectly through free and fair elections to elect our leaders”.
However he said elected officials must, “ensure that our responsibility to electors and our commitment to the international community, remains the main focus.”
He also called on leaders to “visualise strategies to fight corruption”, but questioned the commitment to democracy by some nations.
“We are all parties to numerous international treaties and conventions on human rights and anti-corruption.
“But what are we really doing with these treaties and conventions? Are we simply ratifying them to make the numbers to bring these treaties and conventions into effect? By ratifying treaties and conventions, does it make our countries more democratic? Does it ensure human rights are part and parcel of our countries’ commitments not only to our own people, but to the international community?” he asked.
Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu were also invited to the summit.