By Shitemi Khamadi
Sections of the proposed Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill, 2014 of Kenya that touch on access to information not only contradict the Constitution but also fail to align to basic democratic tenets that Kenya has gained so far.
Article 35 of the Constitution provides for the right of access to information held by the State. This is the guiding principle applicable to parliamentary processes that Parliament must be open, transparent and accountable to the public in its lawmaking and policy making functions.
Media coverage of Parliamentary proceedings is a good test of the democratic vigor of a country hence progressive parliaments need to ensure they do not give something with the left hand and take it back, further with the right hand. They must be reluctant to adopt measures that limit criticism or the flow of information to the public. It is also a cardinal duty for parliaments to review restrictive legislation which may date from a less democratic era.
The proposed Bill is a step backwards especially coming at a time when the world commemorates the International Democracy Day and also convenes the Global Legislative Openness Week in which open and transparent parliament is one of the key issues. For instance, section 34 of the Bill states that;
A person commits an offence of the person
a) Publishes any false or scandalous libel on Parliament, its committees or proceedings or
b) Speaks words defamatory of Parliament, its committees or proceedings
This provision is regressive and offends Article 34 (2) (b) of the constitution which provides that the state shall not penalize any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination. That section attempts to re-introduce criminal libel laws which the 2010 constitution effectively abolished.
In addition, Kenya is a signatory of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) network in which parliamentary openness, transparency and citizen engagement is a core component. Making parliamentary information open is critical to empowering citizens and strengthening their capacity to participate in parliamentary process and increase accountability.
For instance, the renovation of Parliament included the electronic registration and voting system that cost sh920M, a colossal amount of taxpayers’ money. It follows therefore that information on attendance and voting recorded on this facility should be made accessible to the public.
The recent case in which Emgwen MP Alex Kimutai Kosgey was accused of not attending to parliamentary business but let off the hook claiming the biometric login system record is not up-to-date is wanting.
Reason and the rule of law must prevail at all times. Parliamentarians are peoples’ representatives, and information on their activities; plenary, committee sessions and reports should be accessible by the public.