Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Why Rwanda’s Access To Information Law Is Important

Why Rwanda’s Access to information law is important
President Kagame hosts journalists to a group photo after a month press conference which has become a tradition over the past years (PPU photo)

Rwanda has become the eleventh African country to have a law in place that allows easy access to public information for the media and the general public.
The law which was gazzetted in March also applies to private organs whose activities are in connection with public interest and human rights and freedoms.
The other African countries which have been able to have this law in place include: South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, Niger, Guinea-Conakry and Tunisia.
It is important to note that this law is another positive step towards Rwanda’s journey to development because for any country to move forward in good governance system, the public should be well informed.
The core principle of Access to Information Law is emphasized in its article number three which stipulates that every person has the right of Access to information in possession of a public organ and some private bodies.
This Law instructs public authorities to proactively publish and disseminate information to the public in a useful form and manner to further the public interest generally in democracy and development processes and to promote greater accountability of public authorities and private bodies.
Govt keen on accountability
The law’s biggest objective is the promotion of open government through disclosure of information and facilitating the right of all persons to have access to information held by public authorities.
Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) which has media in its mandate says that the media is key when it comes to public bodies being accountable to the people and says that as long there are informed citizens the country will move forward to be a knowledge based society.
RGB also says that the publication of the law shows that the Rwandan government is keen to entrenching transparency and accountability as well as enhancing greater participation by citizens in the management of public affairs.
Journalists believe that the tendency of government officials to withhold public information by saying that they are busy has come to an end with this new law and this will allow journalists to do investigative and analytical journalism with more official and credible sources of information.
Media watchdogs join celebration
This passage of this law should also be seen as a way to promoting transparency and accountability as well as enhancing greater participation by citizens in the management of public affairs.
To some players like the Article 19, a media watchdog, the law exemplary in terms of its scope of application.
“The law has clear provisions on proactive disclosure and allows for all people to seek, receive and disseminate information,” says Henry Maina, the Director of Article 19 in Eastern Africa.
He notes that the law has some broad exemptions, where access to information may be restricted in relation to national security and the administration of justice and trade secrets.
Currently the law is awaiting a ministerial order which will put in place implementation guidelines.
African Union writes to Kagame
The guidelines should make it clear that where requests for information have not been dealt with in time or where the information requested has been denied, the person requesting that information is entitled to an appeal to the Office of Ombudsman which will be the custodian of the law.
The law was also hailed by the African Union Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in a letter to President Paul Kagame.
The letter was issued on March 27, 2013 and signed by Advocate Pansy Tlakula, a Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.
It read in part: “Your Excellency (President Paul Kagame), the adoption of the law does not only portray the government of the Republic of Rwanda’s efforts in achieving democracy, but it’s also a laudable step towards fulfillment of Article one of the African Charter.”
The AU said the law guarantees reporters access to data held by public institutions, a positive development that creates platform for accountability of officials.


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