, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 19 – Kenyans and the media fraternity will soon have unrestricted access to information held by the government and its agencies, if the National Assembly finally passes the Access to Information Bill, 2015.
The Bill which has been in the drafting stage since 2013 clearly spells out circumstances under which information may be withheld, for instance, where such information is likely to undermine the national security of Kenya, according to House Justice and Legal Affairs Committee vice-chairperson Priscilla Nyokabi.
The Nyeri County Woman Representative assured the House that national security will not used as a cover to fighting graft even as MPs raised concerns that government officers may frustrate Kenyans to get information.
“If government officials know that the records they keep… that the tenders they give; that the selection they do, that all that information is accessible to public is likely that we won’t have as much corruption as we do. Corruption thrives in secrecy,” she said while introducing debate on the Bill.
MPs Makali Mulu (Kitui Central MP), Irungu Kangata (Kiharu MP) and Florence Mutua (Busia County Woman Representative) termed the law as progressive because it was beneficial to the public.
Mulu said the Bill would not only enhance access to information from government institutions but also ensure correct information is disseminated to the public.
“Whistleblowers will have a field day, whenever things are not working well. The hindrance has always been that you don’t know whether the authenticity of the documents you are using but now that you have the access to the correct information you can do whistle blowing to any level and you can do it in the streets or even in the shamba,” he said.
Kangata and Mutua raised concerns that the Bill in its current form will not affect the counties which they claim have been denying the public information to their county budgets, tendering and procurement process among others matters.
“Some areas of counties are not covered by this Bill, I therefore urge my colleague to be clear and expand it to cover the counties, ” Kangata said in relation to the Bill Memorandum of Objects and Reasons which states the Bill does not affect the functions of the County Governments and is therefore not a Bill concerning counties.
Other proposals state that in demanding information from a public office, no fee should be levied on the individual unless in production of copies.
MPs started debate on the Bill which also provides circumstances where a public and private agency may withhold certain information and shield officers who disclose confidential information in line of their jobs from possible prosecution.
MPs John Mbadi (Suba) , Dan Maanzo (Makueni) and Samuel Gichigi (Kipipiri) raised concern over the Official Secrets Act which limits how much information can be made public, further calling on the Commission on Administration of Justice which is the implementing agency to ensure the issue is dealt with.