Katiba Institute, The Media Council of Kenya and TI-Kenya are hosted this year’s International Day for Access to Information in Nairobi. The International Day for Universal Access to Information is observed on September 28 every year to support the idea that everyone around the globe has the fundamental right to seek, receive and disseminate information.
The 2022 UNESCO theme for the day is “Artificial Intelligence, e-Governance and Access to Information”. It invites us all to consider the role of digital technology in the creation and sharing of government-held information and what that means for government transparency.
Deputy Head of Mission of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Nairobi, Mr. Geir Arne Schei lauded Katiba Institute’s work in defending the Constitution.
“The Royal Norwegian Embassy values Katiba Institute as a partner and continues to find relevance in work of protecting and realizing the full implementation of Constitution of Kenya 2010.” Mr. Geir said.
Mr. Geir further noted that Norway’s support to Kenya will continue to focuse on defence of human rights and human rights defenders and improving public participation in governance.
Christine Kuria, Katiba Institute’s Operations Manager outlined Katiba Institute’s work on Access to Information.
“Access to Information and constitutional education are some of Katiba Institute’s overarching strategic approaches to promoting constitutionalism.”
Christine noted the importance of the day – an important marker for stocktaking our progress towards the realization of the right of everyone to access and impart information. She challenged stakeholders to reflect on the progress in making the Access to Information right realizable, raise public awareness and make commitments to bridge the gaps.
During a panel discussion on open governance and access to information, participants reflected on the gains made towards realizing access to information, with discussions led by a panel drawn from the media, civil society and government.
In her contribution, Patriciah Joseph of Katiba Institute observed that some important steps have been made by reason of availability of the right to information under Article 35 as both an avenue for enabling realization of other rights and freedoms as well as Access to Information as a remedy in itself.
To this end, Katiba Institute has utilized Access to Information in all its interventions including as a precursor to litigation, as a substantive request in Public Interest Litigation, as a tool for seeking enforcement of court judgments and for empowering communities to seek accountability from public officials. Furthermore, there have been progressive pronouncements in court on enabling Access to Information including guiding principles such as maximum disclosure, and minimum restrictions to disclosure of information which should be clear, narrow and subject to strict ‘harm’ and ‘public interest’ tests, and to the rights and interests of others”. She noted, however, that the greatest drawback was failure by the government particularly in complying with the spirit of the Constitution, particularly in ensuring proactive disclosure of public-interest information, non-compliance with court orders such as the orders in the Khelef case to publish the SGR contract and non-response to ATI requests.
Patriciah said that proactive disclosure of information has not yet become a culture, as seen by reliance on such regressive laws as the Official Secrets Act and national security to deny access to information.’ This, therefore, remains an opportunity for actors to sustain efforts towards making governments more open, fostering public participation as an essential element of Access to Information and building capacities of communities to demand accountability from the government.
By Kevin Mabonga