Katiba Institute urges public entities and citizens to utilise the right to access information. 

Katiba Institute held Access to Information sessions in Bungoma, Vihiga, Kakamega,and Kisumu Counties between 10 to 14 June 2024. Our meetings in Bungoma, Vihiga, and Kakamega were community engagements that targeted community representatives, local CSOs, and journalists. These culminated in a multistakeholder forum in Kisumu jointly convened with the Media Council of Kenya and attracted journalists, civil society leaders and County Directors of Communications from Kisumu, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga and Kakamega Counties. 

The right to information is the right to access information held by public entities and, in some circumstances, private bodies. 

While the right to access information is provided for in the Constitution, most citizens and public officers are not aware of it or do not use it. People need information from the government to hold them accountable and actively participate in government affairs. 

Patriciah Joseph, the Programmes Manager at Katiba Institute, underscored the importance of community engagement and a forum on access to information owing to the right to society. 

“The sensitisation of the public about the right to access information is crucial as it guides citizens on how to defend themselves when their rights are breached,” said Patriciah. 

Patriciah outlined the benefits of access to information, including its role in facilitating the exercise of other constitutional rights.  She stressed that limitations for accessing information must be justified and reasons provided for denials. She also called for consideration of factors such as persons with disabilities (PWDs), cost, language, and means of communication regarding public interest matters to ensure ease of access. 

While introducing participants to access to information, Katiba Institute’s Kevin Mabonga underlined its importance to citizens, public officials, and journalists. Mabonga said that enacting the Access to Information Act was critical to realising the right to access information.  

“The Access to Information Act of 2016 was a significant step towards implementing Article 35 of the Constitution of Kenya, which guarantees the right to access information.” 

Mabonga urged public officers to proactively disclose information relevant to citizens as outlined in the Access to Information Act. He also urged participants to familiarise themselves with the law, as they all have a role to play in ensuring the effective implementation of the law. 

“Citizens, journalists and public officials should read and understand the Act because it fills the details of the right to access information and provides mechanisms to protect the right.” He added. 

Media Council of Kenya (MCK) Officer Halima Osman highlighted journalists’ critical role in disseminating information to the public and called on them to understand the procedure of requesting information. 

“It is important to follow the right process when looking for information. Having a press card alone does not guarantee access,” Ms Osman said. 

Challenges in accessing information. 

The engagements made clear that citizens still face challenges getting information from public entities. Most participants indicated they had not formally requested information from their respective county governments but felt the government would not readily give information if they sought it. There were, though, some who sought information from county governments but got frustrated because the respective government offices did not respond. 

The major challenge cited was the failure of government agencies to avail information.  

“I have requested information from the county government but have not yet received feedback, even after a follow-up with the Commission on Administrative Justice,” a participant from Vihiga County complained. 

Participants called on the Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ) to intervene and take action against entities that fail to provide information as required by the law.  

Public officials also encouraged citizens and journalists to check the information provided, especially on the website, before requesting it. They also urged journalists to understand the law to understand how to get information. 

Other challenges in accessing information include the cost of getting it if charges are involved, literacy levels, language, and discrimination.  

Devolution and access to information 

As part of KI’s work on Devolution, our team engaged with communities and trained them on the role of access to information in effectively implementing devolution. Our team explained the importance of understanding various critical provisions of the Constitution that are crucial in exercising their right to access information about county governments and their activities. These include the objectives of devolution, the functions of the national and county governments and other provisions that embody the Constitution’s value system. Among these are the national values and principles of governance, chapter six on leadership and integrity, the principles of public finance management, and the principles of public service.  

Henry Gichana, who heads the devolution unit at Katiba Institute, challenged participants to familiarise themselves with these provisions to exercise their right better to access information at the county level.  

This marks only the first of the interventions the institute plans to implement to support the effective and constitutionally compliant implementation of devolution in Kenya. 

Also see https://storyspotlight.co.ke/katiba-institute-launches-training-program-on-access-to-information-in-western-kenya


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