21 December 2022. The FiTI’s most recent TAKING STOCK assessment of online transparency of marine fisheries shows clearly the need for national authorities in São Tomé and Príncipe to significantly improve public access to fisheries management information. The government’s announcement in early 2022 to join the FiTI can serve as first tangible step to do so.
The FiTI evaluated the information that national authorities in São Tomé and Príncipe make available to the public via government websites. Based on the requirements of the FiTI Standard, the assessment reviewed information across 12 thematic areas, looking at whether information is publicly accessible, up to date and easy to find.
Overall, the results reveal that almost no information is published online, even though there is evidence that this information is available to national authorities. This lack of public access to information clearly restricts the ability of all relevant stakeholders to participate in public debates and reforms towards better governance of the sector, and to monitor government decision-making regarding the sustainable management of the country’s marine fisheries sector.
While the results clearly emphasise the need for improvements, it must also be recognised that online transparency efforts in fisheries management are often linked to the level of development of a country’s fisheries sector. For Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as São Tomé and Príncipe, limited financial resources and human capacity constraints often result in national authorities prioritising more tangible policies in the fisheries sector over ensuring the online availability of government information. This seems also to be the case in São Tomé and Príncipe, where only a few of the Ministries relevant for this assessment have their own website (or these websites are currently under constructions), while other Ministries use primarily social media platforms, e.g. Facebook, to publish news and updates. Furthermore, internet usage is low across the country, with the International Telecommunication Union estimating that only 33% of the population of São Tomé and Príncipe uses the internet (according to 2020 figures). Appreciating these important contextual factors is a core principle of our TAKING STOCK assessments.
However, while the FiTI places emphasis on ‘downward accountability‘ – that is from the government to its citizens – national authorities in São Tomé and Príncipe have also a responsibility to share information on a regional and global level as well.
In order to improve public services, increase citizen participation and strengthen online access to government data, the government should therefore continue implementing its ‘2020 National Strategy for Digital Governance in São Tomé and Príncipe’. This could, for example, include a main landing page for fisheries information, with categories for key information available through a menu system.
Despite the country’s negative score in this assessment, it is positive to note that in January 2022, the government of São Tomé and Príncipe announced its public commitment to join the FiTI, becoming the sixth country to increase transparency and multi-stakeholder collaboration in fisheries management through the FiTI Standard. This TAKING STOCK assessment therefore comes at an opportune moment, establishing a benchmark for fisheries transparency in São Tomé and Príncipe from which national authorities and the (to-be-established) FiTI National Multi-Stakeholder Group can demonstrate improvements over time.
The findings of São Tomé and Príncipe’s TAKING STOCK assessment are published in a Summary Assessment Report as well as an in-depth Detailed Assessment Report. Both are available in English and Portuguese.
The assessment for São Tomé and Príncipe was funded by Irish Aid and conducted under the supervision and responsibility of the FiTI International Secretariat.