All commissions must publish and make annual reports public

It is not widely known that important branches of the government have to submit and publish annual reports of their activities of the past year.

This applies to Independent Commissions and Independent Offices. Thus, the following government bodies are required to do this: The Kenya National Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, the National Land Commission, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the Parliamentary Service Commission, the Salaries and Revenue Commission, the National Police Service Commission, the Auditor-General and the Controller of Budget.

These are key institutions by what they do as well by their standing independent of the government. Instead of being headed by a minister, they operate under provisions of Chapter Fifteen of the Constitution, with a chairperson and several commissioners.

Article 254 of the Constitution provides as follows: 254. (1) As soon as practicable after the end of each financial year, each commission, and each holder of an independent office, shall submit a report to the President and to Parliament.”

The purpose of the reports from these institutions is to ensure oversight by the Office of the President and Parliament itself, of the activities of institutions which themselves carry out oversight duties of key branches of government. The reports emerge from the vision of the Constitution itself. There are many strands in the Constitution’s vision for the country. The reports meet the Constitution’s aims of transparency, accountability, people’s participation, and verifiability of products of the commissions.

The reports also reflect the moral meaning of the Constitution. Reports move against corruption, and the ignorance of a large part of the electorate. They move against the effects of poverty in the electorate: apathy, indifference, abstentions from voting, the lack of means to enforce people’s rights. The reports enable any citizen to learn what is being done in their name.

During the colonial period, an identical provision was in force in respect of government ministries. Every year the ministries would prepare and publish their Annual Reports. After independence, the Annual Reports came out for two years.

Then, the then Attorney-General directed that the reports did not need to be annual, but it would suffice if they were issued tri-annually. After the first batch of the latter, no further reports, annual or otherwise, were ever published. It is ironical that the colonial government proved itself more responsive to the people, than the independent government that followed in 1963. It was an unfortunate example. For the past 50 years we have not had annual reports from any of the ministries, reinforcing further the culture of non-accountability and impunity that the first independent government established.

The annual reports had to give a full and fair account of the state of the ministry. They would typically set out narratives of the key events of the year in the ministry concerned. Attention was paid to policies that had been introduced bringing about changes. Expansion of ministry activities to more districts featured regularly, as did staff issues.  

Similarly, significant legislation that had been passed under the ministry’s auspices was mentioned. It set out achievements of the ministry and its shortfalls and the reasons. They reported on complaints received from the public and of parliamentary questions concerning the ministry.

The 2010 Constitution unhesitatingly rejected the bad precedent of the past 50 years. It not only provided for the reports to be made annually, but also underlined the mode of their publication and dissemination. Article 254(3) expressly provides: “Every report required from a commission or holder of an independent office under this Article shall be published and publicized.”

The Constitution is determined not only that reports should be prepared, but that they will not lie tucked away unseen in dusty files. They must be published by the Government Printer.

And then the Constitution mandatorily (“shall be”) requires the report to be PUBLICISED. It is to prevent half-hearted compliance by ministries with a report that is prepared and published, but its contents are not given coverage on government radio, television and websites. That is also why Article 35 provides: (1). Every citizen has the right of access to (a) information held by the State; and (3). The State shall publish and publicise any important information that affects the nation.

The writer is senior counsel