Mozambique Parliament Makes an Important Step on RTI

6 November 2014

By Alfredo Libombo

The author is Executive Director, ACREDITAR, Mozambique. This is a chapter in a recently issued State of Right to Information in Africa Report 2014 and is reprinted with permission. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The Republic of Mozambique has demonstrated political commitment to accountability on the basis of African treaties. The government has ratified five of the six African Union treaties that recognise the right to access to information. These are: African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, African Union Youth Charter, African Statistics Charter and the African Charter on the Values and Principles of Public Service Administration. The Government is yet to ratify and domesticate the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance[1].

Mozambique is one of 13 countries that have no pending reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Concerning the Open Government Partnership, Mozambique has been assessed to have 11 points, one less to meet full eligibility.

Mozambique practices a good level of budget transparency by making budget information public and accessible by the population. It also enjoys a good level of citizen engagement but is yet to adopt a law that obliges leaders to disclose assets, a key requirement for promotion of good governance. This, together with absence of an access to information law, has affected the country’s ability to meet eligibility for membership to the Open Government Partnership.

Almost eight years after it was submitted by civil society organizations, the three political parties represented in the Mozambican parliament (the ruling Frelimo Party, the opposition parties Renamo, and the Mozambique Democratic Movement) on August 22 passed a bill on the right to information, which will oblige public bodies, and those private bodies which undertake activities of general interest, to release information to any citizen requesting it.

The bill was passed unanimously at first reading and now must go to its second and final reading. It is not known when this will take place, as a new parliament will be chosen after the Mozambique general elections on October 15. However, one thing is certain: this parliament will have an extraordinary session to debate issues which cannot be left for the next parliament. The Speaker of the Mozambican parliament, Verónica Macamo, was clear on this when she said during the debate that since the bill was approved with the support of all three parliamentary groups, the second reading and final approval cannot be left to the next parliament.

Presenting the bill, the chairperson of the working commission dealing with the drafting, Alfredo Gamito, said they need some time to incorporate recommendations from various national and continental organizations and take into considerations some aspects of the African Model on Right to Information and as such suggested that the second reading be postponed for an extraordinary session of the parliament likely to be held likely in early October.

According to the bill, bodies covered, public and private, “have the duty to make available information of public interest in their power, publishing it through the legally permitted channels, which can make it increasingly accessible to citizens”. Among the material which must be made available are annual activity plans and budgets; audit, inquiry and inspection reports; environmental impact reports; and contracts, including the revenue and expenditure involved in them. The people requesting access do not need to state what they intend to do with the information.

The bill now specifically forbids restrictions on access to information of public interest, and orders public powers to keep their archives open, stating that all information must be kept “in duly catalogued and indexed records so as to facilitate the right to information”. It adds that “public bodies, and private bodies invested with public powers, by law or by contract, exercise their activities in the interest of society and so those activities must be made known to citizens”.

The bill clearly specifies that “the permanent democratic participation of citizens in public life presupposes access to information of public interest so as to formulate and express value judgments on the management of public affairs, and thus influence decision making”. Furthermore, public documents and archives must be open to anyone wishing to consult them. The petitioner may request the information verbally or in writing, and needs do nothing more than identify him or herself. The documents requested must be made available within 21 days, and consulting them is free of charge (apart from the costs of photocopying, if the petitioner wishes to take them away).

There are exceptions. Freedom of information does not apply to state secrets. But state secrets must be defined as such by law and officials cannot just decide on their own what constitutes a classified document. Documents that are involved in ongoing court cases and are therefore subjudice are also exempt from the freedom of information rules. Also in this category are sensitive information on banks and their clients, which 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 bill also exempts the private lives of citizens from freedom of information requests and states that no information that could endanger the victims of crimes, witnesses or whistle blowers should be made public.

What next?

According to Alfredo Gamito, the bill on Right to Information will change the legal framework in Mozambique. Some laws will have to be revoked such as the one on state secrets and the one governing civil servants.

Civil society is optimistic about the approval of the bill but cautions about its implementation and conscious that while it is not a perfect piece of legislation, it is worth having it approved, rather nothing at all.

During the debates MPs made it clear that the RTI is essential to strengthen democracy in Mozambique, but it is necessary to educate people how to use it and avoid possible abuses.

Some background

When it became independent 39 years ago from Portugal, Mozambique was one of the world’s poorest countries. Up to 2012 the country registered an average growth annual rate of 6%–8% in the decade, and is considered one of Africa’s strongest performances mainly due to recent discoveries of natural resources in the North. Revenues from these vast resources, including natural gas, coal, titanium and hydroelectric capacity, could overtake donor assistance within five years[2].

In 1987, the government embarked on a series of macroeconomic reforms designed to stabilize the economy and after a brutal civil war from 1977 to 1992, a peace agreement was signed in Rome between the government and Renamo which led to the first multiparty elections in 1994, won by Frelimo[3].

Mozambique’s Constitution, adopted in 1990 and amended in 2004, guarantees the right to information as well as the press freedom[4]. The press law defines in its article 3 that the right to information means the right of every citizen to inform and be informed of relevant facts and opinions about the national and international levels as well as the right of every citizen to disseminate information, opinions and ideas through the press. Its article 29 refers that journalists, in the exercise of their work, will be given access to official sources of information.

Challenges

One of the major challenges is the need to equip civil society to do an in depth analysis of the bill approved at first reading by the parliament and compare it with the African model law. One of the enterprises to be taken now is to prepare civil society organizations in Mozambique to use what is positive in the bill and to advocate possible changes of negative aspects. Also there is need to continue with advocacy to have the bill on right to information in Mozambique approved on the second reading and learn good practices from other countries in implementing right to information acts.

Associação ACREDITAR is a relatively new civil organization and in partnership with other CSOs is now drafting actions to be taken once the bill is adopted at the second reading. The actions include training civil servants on how to use the bill (setting up appropriate offices) to access requests. The bill will be disseminated so that citizens will also be educated on how to request information of their interest.

Recommendations

  1. The Government of Mozambique should ratify, domesticate and effectively implement the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
  2. The Freedom of Information Bill recently presented to Parliament should be expeditiously passed and implemented to enable the people of Mozambique enjoy their constitutional right to information.

 


1 http://www.au.int/en/content/african-charter-democracy-elections-and-governance

2 In Cidadania e Governação em Moçambique, 2007, Comunicações apresentadas na conferência inaugural do Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos, Maputo

3 In Mozambique, Economic growth and human development: Progress, obstacles and challenges, 1999, National Human Development Report, Maputo

4 In Constituição da República, 2004, Imprensa Nacional de Moçambique, Maputo

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