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ELECTION 2022

Law on access to information was long overdue

EDITORIAL
By The Standard | Sep 3rd 2016 | 2 min read

By signing into law the Access to Information Act 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened a new chapter in Kenyans’ quest for information on public matters. The assent marks the culmination of several years of advocacy, undertaken principally by civil society and the media. We as a newspaper, welcome the law noting that all Kenyans have a right to information. The fight for a law guaranteeing access to public information has been long and winding with various regimes fearing that it would expose the ills in government. The current legislation, now signed into law, was sponsored to the National Assembly as a private members Bill by Nyeri County Women Representative Priscilla Nyokabi.

With the new legislation, Kenya is the 21st country in Africa to pass an access to information law. Pundits argue the enactment of the law heralds a new era for transparency, since citizens will now access and use information to hold the government accountable and promote good governance.

The Act articulates the processes by which citizens can request information from public agencies and relevant private bodies. It also penalises withholding of information by public officers.

The law enshrines a number of progressive freedom of information principles, as it affirms a legally enforceable right for every citizen to access information held by public entities and private bodies. It gives clear and simple procedures for assessing information, a creation of comprehensive proactive disclosure regime; and provision for exempt information subject to international standards.

Experts, however, posit that considerations should be made to ensure effective implementation of provisions within the Act and the empowerment of oversight institutions such as the Commission on Administrative Justice.

We call for speedy formulation of the regulations, which should be realised through a consultative process, inclusive of key stakeholders like the private sector, civil society organisations and the media.

The media particularly, have suffered effects of denial of access to information from public offices for flimsy reasons, including documents labelled confidential, top secret and classified to bar journalists from informing audiences accurately on issues that affect them.

To highlight some cases, the mystery surrounding the El Adde attack has remained a tightly kept secret despite Kenya losing dozens of gallant soldiers, who bravely died safeguarding national interest in Somalia. A board of inquiry was formed, but its findings were never made public.

The Access to Information Act confers on the Commission on Administrative Justice oversight and enforcement powers over the provisions of the Act and requires the Commission to work with other public bodies on promotion of access to information. It is also mandated to hear and determine complaints and review decisions arising from breach of provisions of the Act. Let authorities appreciate the spirit of this law.

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