Mozambique Assembly OKs Freedom of Information Law

29 November 2014

Mozambique’s Assembly on Nov. 26 unanimously passed a freedom of information bill on the second and final reading.

The bill passed on first reading on Aug. 21, in the final days of the ordinary sitting of the Assembly. (See previous article). Final passage came in an extraordinary sitting of the Assembly.  The president supports the bill and is expected to sign it before he leaves office in January. His signature will make Mozambique the 101st nation to have a freedom of information regime.

Supporters have been campaigning for a law for about eight years. “The call for a Freedom of Information Act came, not from any political party, but from journalists,” according to an article about the bill, which also credited the Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa).

“The political party parliamentary groups clearly did not regard it as a priority,” the article observed. “Even when it found its way onto the parliamentary agenda in 2013, it was not discussed because that sitting too ran out of time.”

Media Insitute of Southern Africa – Mozambique chairman Fernando Goncalves said in a statement, “We recognise that the law has some weaknesses, in the sense that it does not provide for an independent mechanism to oversee its implementation or to handle complaints from the public, but we see it as a first step in the right direction.”

The FOI bill covers public bodies and “private bodies invested with public powers, by law or by contract….”

The bill states the government must disclose annual activity plans and budgets; audit, inquiry and inspection reports; environmental impact reports; and contracts, including the revenue and expenditure involved in them.

Requesters are not required to justify their requests. Answers are to be provided in 21 days with only photocopying charges allowed.

State secrets defined by law are exempted. So are documents concerning ongoing court cases and information that could endanger the victims of crimes, witnesses or whistle blowers.

“More controversially, sensitive information on banks and their clients cannot be revealed, and commercial and industrial secrets are also protected, if knowledge of these matters by competitors could damage the productivity of the company concerned,” the article states.

The Mozambique bill was written about by Alfredo Libombo, Executive Director, ACREDITAR, Mozambique. (See previous report.)

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