C.S Lewis once said, “If you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.” The 11th Parliament has done one good deed in passing the long overdue, Access to Information Bill. The bill sponsored by Hon. Priscilla Nyokabi ends an over 10 years wait.
Kenyans for a long time, have had to conform to the idea that information was a privilege of a few powerful bureaucrats both in private and public institutions. But it’s the government officials that intimidated anyone who sought information by invoking the Official Secrets Acts of 1968 but that is now set to change. This Bill reasserts the fact that access to information is the right of every citizen and that the government is only a custodian of that information.
The Bill went through the third reading in the National Assembly and now awaits input from the Senate before being presented to the President for assent. When the law becomes operational, any public or private institution that withholds information requested by a private citizen or any Kenyan for that matter will face criminal charges.
If any requested information has not been provided as requested within 21 days, one can seek redress in High Court on grounds of violation of rights and if found guilty the individual can serve up to 3 years in jail or fined up to Ksh. 500,000.
Furthermore, in the event that a secret information has been leaked through a whistleblower, anyone can seek to have the leaked information, arguing that it is already in the public domain. However, leaking of classified information that may compromise national security would lead to a jail term of 3 years in a maximum security prison or a fine of Ksh1 million.
While this is good for all Kenyans, the biggest benefactors are journalists, civil rights groups and activists who have long had antagonistic relationship with public officials and corrupt private entities with regard to sharing of information.
With the passing of this Bill, we are likely to see more prosecutions as information that was previously held on dubious grounds will no longer be an impediment to justice. This will indeed lead to a proactive reform within and without government as most of the culprits will begin to put their houses in order before they are caught flat footed.
This Bill reinforces the country’s commitment to press freedom and indeed the media fraternity will reap hugely from it.
Most of the challenges Kenyans experience are directly related to lack of information. From misdiagnosis to criminal activities; even elections. A country’s leadership is as sound as the electorate and indeed an informed electorate makes informed choices when voting in leaders.
Once it becomes law, the civil rights organisations that have been pushing for open governance and transparency in government dealings with its public can rest easy knowing that their concerns did not fall on deaf ears.
But having a good law is one thing, following it is another all together. It is now upon Kenyans to take advantage of this Bill once it becomes law to make leaders in government and private sector accountable to the people by adhering to the law.