Lobbying for FOI Bill kicks off

September 22, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, September 22 – Monday marked the start of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Week with celebrations expected to culminate on Sunday.

The acting executive director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Priscilla Nyokabi told Capital News that this year’s focus would be a  push for the publication of the Freedom of Information Bill and highlighting challenges that the media faces in accessing information.

“We are still far from celebrating. We don’t have this Act despite campaigning for over seven years. We are at a worse position than we were last year in September.  Then we had a Bill; in September this year we don’t have a Bill (pending before Parliament following a lapse of the previous one).  This is even a time to mourn.  We hope after this one week of campaign, the Bill will be published,” she said.

She pointed out that law would promote transparency to assist in phasing out corruption that had so far been common in most of the government offices.

Ms Nyokabi noted that when passed, the Bill would not just benefit the media but the public as well, saying that citizens also needed to ensure that the government remained accountable.

She noted that access to public information still remained a challenge not just for the media but for ordinary people whom she said were unfortunately not even aware that they were being denied a right to public information.

In efforts to sensitize the public on this right, she said ICJ would hold various activities to stress the importance of accessing such information.

She said there would be debates giving members of public an opportunity to give their views for and against issues concerning public funds and governance.

The debates – to be held with different groups throughout the week – will also touch on the grand coalition government in relation to transparency and accountability.

“On Wednesday afternoon we will have a public debate and the topic will be the grand coalition government; ‘Is it a myth or a reality?’ It will be very interesting,” she said.

The management of public funds like the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and other devolved funds are some of the key areas that Ms Nyokabi believes should be made available t the public at all time to ensure accountability.

She said constituencies had lost money through CDF due to lack of records and information concerning the fund.

“People need to know how CDF is distributed, how much is allocated and how it is spent.  People should also have information on the Local Authorities Transfer Fund.”

Ms Nyokabi said there were plans to hold a peaceful procession within the city centre by media practitioners, ordinary people and other interested groups on Friday.

She said the day would carry the theme of the week which was to ask for the prioritization and urgent publication of the Freedom of Information Bill.

She noted that several stakeholders in the government including the Prime Minister gave promised during this year’s press freedom day to prioritize the Bill and hoped they would honour the pledge.

ICJ actively began campaigning for the FOI Bill since 2000.  Attempts to have it passed in Parliament have not borne fruit.  In the latest bid, the Bill lapsed when the House went on recess before it was passed.



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