Mozambique Close to Passing Access to Information Law

28 August 2014

Mozambique’s parliament on Aug. 21 gave unanimous approval on first reading to an access to information law, but the action may have come too late in this session to become law.

The bill could come up in an “extraordinary sitting” of the Assembly to be held before the general elections scheduled for Oct. 15, with a date in mid-September likely.

The extended session was agreed to on the last day of the regular session, Aug. 25, after Mozambique’s former rebel movement Renamo demanded passage of a law ratifying the declaration of a cessation of hostilities signed by government and Renamo representatives the previous day, according to a report by the Mozambique News Agency.

The news agency notes that the current session of parliament ends soon and that the bill needs a second and final reading.

The access to information bill enjoys the support of all three parliamentary groups – from the ruling Frelimo Party, the former rebel movement Renamo, and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), according to an article by the Mozambique News Agency.

To become law, the ATI bill needs to pass on second and final reading

Efforts to pass a law have been under way since 2005 in Mozambique, where access to information is a constitutionally protected right. A bill has been before parliament three times before with passing, including last year.

The pending bill, according to a statement by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), has been “the subject of some criticism with respect to whether it adequately enforces the right in all its dimensions.”

The draft bill was seen as disappointingly weak, according to a critique by Article 19, the London-based freedom of expression group, issued Aug. 15. (See previous report.)

Nevertheless, MISA Regional Director Zoe Titus said, “This marks a significant development for Southern Africa, because no government in the region has passed an ATI law since 2006 and the region is often criticised for housing some of the most secretive governments in the world.”

Prominent journalists interviewed by the Mozambique News Agency after the bill passed Aug. 21 “regarded it as a step forward, but thought more needed to be done.”

The chairperson of MISA-Mozambique, Fernando Goncalves, was quoted as saying that the pointed out that the bill should have incorporated more of the provisions of the African Union model law on freedom of information,” but still said, “But even so, we are pleased that it has been passed.”

The articles also said:

A former MISA chairperson, Tomas Vieira Mario, said the fact that the bill defines what constitutes a state secret is an important step forward since previously nobody knew who was entitled to define documents as “secret”.

But Mario was skeptical as to whether officials will comply with the bill once it becomes law. “It remains to be known whether the state is willing, in structural terms, and whether there are institutional conditions so that the information can really be made available to citizens in useful time”, he said.

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