Africa 3.9.2016 01:57 pm

President of Kenya signs Access to Information Bill

President of Kenya Mr Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta 
Picture:  Jacoline Schoonees

President of Kenya Mr Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta Picture: Jacoline Schoonees

The bill is among the nine that President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law this week.

The Access to Information Bill 2015 has finally been signed into law allowing Kenyans to freely access information from the government and other public bodies.

The bill is among the nine that President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law this week.

The other bills are the Controller of Budget Bill, the Miscellaneous Fees and Levies Bill, the Kenya National Examination Council (Amendment) Bill, the Community Land Bill, the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expressions Bill, the Forest Conservation and Management Bill, the Lands Laws Bill, and the Seeds and Plant Varieties (Amendment) Act.

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The Access to Information Act now gives effect to article 35 of the Constitution, giving the Commission on Administrative Justice a number of oversight and enforcement functions, and the powers required to employ them. The act puts to rest the long debated issue of government departments withholding information from the public they viewed as “secrets”.

The International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ-K) says the right to access information held by public bodies is widely recognised as a fundamental human right. However, in Kenya such rights were for a long time inhibited by other legislative provisions that restricted sharing of information by government and other bodies that deal with the public.

“Examples of such legislation that have provisions that may restrict the right include the Officials Secrets Act chapter 187, Evidence Act chapter 80, and Preservation of Public Security Act chapter 57,” the ICJ-K said in a report titled “Access to Information Law in Kenya: Rationale and Policy Framework”.

According to Transparency International (TI) the Access to Information Act makes it mandatory for all public entities to disclose information about the organisation, what it does, employees, and salary scales, among other bits of information about the entity.

The act also places an obligation on public agencies to explain their actions, policies, or decisions to citizens if they seek such explanations.

Among the act’s provisions for proactive disclosure of information is a requirement that government publishes all relevant facts while formulating important policies which affect the public. This provision ensures inclusivity of citizens in all forms of government.

“The Access to Information Act proposes to cover public bodies or information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom. It also applies to private entities that receive public resources and benefits, utilise public funds, engage in public functions, provide public services, or have exclusive contracts to exploit natural resources,” TI said in a statement.

The request for information could be submitted in writing either in Kiswahili or English and in the event that the applicant was unable to read and write, or due to disability, the applicant was allowed to make oral requests.

The campaign for enactment of a legislative framework on freedom of information began in 2000 and human rights organisations based in Kenya were unrelenting in the push to enact the law, considering Kenya was signatory to regional and international agreements on the same.

“Within the African Continent, article 9(1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights provides for the right. Kenya has ratified the charter and therefore has obligations under article 1 of the charter to adopt legislative frameworks to realise its enshrined rights and freedoms,” says ICJ-K.

The need for legally ordained procedural mechanisms for enforcing the right made it clear how a citizen could initiate a request for information, how the relevant government departments should deal with requests for information that they may receive, and how grievances about delay or refusal to provide information requested for may be handled, it said.

The bills were presented to the president for his signature by Solicitor General Njee Muturi.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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