Rwanda’s commitment to transparency, a key to development

26 November 2014

By Wakesho Kililo

The author works for Article 19 – Eastern Africa. This is a chapter from a recently issued State of Right to Information in Africa Report 2014 and is reprinted with permission. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Rwanda has ratified all African Union treaties that promote the right to information, except the African Charter on the Values and Principles of Public Administration and the African Charter on Statistics. Despite the fact that the current Vice– Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is Rwandan, the country last reported to the African Commission in 2009 and is late by two reports[1]. The country’s leadership has on many occasions publicly stated that transparency is key to full recovery from the political, social and economic effects of the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda has claimed one of the fastest growing African economies and this is as a result of a continuous period of economic growth, driven largely by private sector activity in the services sector. In 2012 Rwanda’s economy had grown by 8%[2]. Rwanda’s trend–setting in East Africa is not only seen in its economic growth, but also in the fact that it is the third country to pass a RTI law after Uganda and Ethiopia.

The passing of a right to information law is strategic for Rwanda even as it aims for more economic growth. This is because of the significant role that access to information laws play in the development process; and this is enabling citizens to participate in the development process. In addition, this is significant as the free flow of information determines the pace of development and the wellbeing of the people. Right to information laws enable development that is participatory, strengthens democracy, aids in achieving transparency and accountability by government and also contributes to the effective delivery of services by government[3].

According to the African Platform for Access to Information Declaration (APAID)[4], the key principles on the right to access to information are: fundamental access to everyone, maximum disclosure, the right established in law, application to public bodies and private bodies, clear and unambiguous process, obligation to publish information, accessibility and availability in the language of the person seeking it, limited exemptions to the right, oversight bodies, right to personal data, whistleblower protection, the right to appeal, duty to collect and manage information and the duty to ensure the law is fully implemented[5].

The Constitution of Rwanda recognises and guarantees the freedom of information. This right is guaranteed so long as it does not prejudice public order and good morals, the right to every citizen to honour, good reputation and the privacy of personal and family life. It is also guaranteed so long as it does not prejudice the protection of youth and minors[6].

Rwanda’s access to information law guarantees the right to everyone and does not require justification for seeking information. It states that every person has the right of access to information in possession of a public organ and some private bodies[7]. This right includes the right to assess the activities, documents or records, taking notes, documents, extracts or copies of official documents or records, taking documents or extracts of notified copies and obtaining information stored in any electronic form or through print out copies of information stored in a computer or any device.

The law takes into account the principle of maximum disclosure as it provides that all information held by public bodies can be accessed by the public and sets out limited situations where access may be denied. The law provides that a public organ or a private body to which the law applies shall disclose information where the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest of not disclosing such information. In considering what constitutes the public interest, the law lays emphasis on the following; to promote in public and private organs to which the law applies the culture of informing the public about their activities, to ensure that the expenditure of public funds is subject to effective management and oversight, to promote founded public debate, to keep the public regularly and adequately informed about the existence of any danger to public health or safety or to the environment and to ensure that any public authority with regulatory mission properly discharges its functions[8].

The exceptions to the disclosure of information by public and private organs are if the information may destabilize national security, impede the enforcement of law or justice, involve interference in the privacy of an individual when it is not of public interest, violate the legitimate protection of trade secrets or other intellectual property rights protected by the law or obstruct actual or contemplated legal proceedings against the management of a public organ. The obligation to provide information to the public and journalists applies to all public bodies and some private bodies whose activities are in connection with the public interest, human rights and freedoms[9]. The ministerial order determining private organs to which the law applies provides that any interested person may request a competent court to order that a private organ to which the law does not apply provides some information required in the interest of preserving the life or liberty of persons[10].

The law incorporates the principle of proactive disclosure, stating that every public and private organ shall proactively disclose vital information to the public and according to the ministerial order determining the information to be disclosed. This includes information on the budget allocated to each department of the agency, indicating the particulars of all plans and reports on disbursements made[11].

In addition, it sets out a procedure for requesting and obtaining information. It provides for the appointment of information officers who would provide requested information. The law stipulates that the provision of information is an obligation without a fee[12].

Requesters of information can do so in any language provided in the Constitution of Rwanda, which is Kinyarwanda, French or English[13] and the request can be done in writing, by telephone, the Internet or any other means of communication. One has the right to determine the means in which he or she wants to obtain the information and if the chosen means requires money the applicant is then required to bear the cost[14]. The ministerial order provides a deadline for disclosure of requests. It states that an information officer shall make a decision on an application as soon as possible, but in any event, within three working days of the receipt of the application[15]. The information officer is allowed to request the extension of this period if the request is complex or relates to a large volume of information. However if the information sought concerns the liberty of the person the information shall be provided within 24 hours of the receipt of the request, and where information is sought by a journalist for the purposes of news gathering, the information shall be provided within two days of receipt of the request. In case of a rejection, the public information officer is mandated to send the applicant a written order detailing the reasons for the rejection of the request including the relevant provisions for which the rejection is based[16].

The protection of persons who have made a disclosure of information in the instance that an information officer has failed to do so within the time limits stipulated in the law[17] and the prescription of penalties in form of fines or imprisonment for delay in giving information without good cause, giving incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or refusal to give information are also plausible components of the law[18].

The full implementation of this law is vital to the attainment by Rwanda of its growth vision. This way, Rwandan citizens will be able to receive information on matters that affect them; they will be able to take part in public debate and will be aware of economic options available for their wellbeing. Citizens will also have the information necessary to scrutinize public policy and expenditure and be in a position to suggest solutions to the shortcomings in public decision making geared toward achieving their vision for development.

Implementation

Being relatively new, citizens are yet to widely understand and use the Freedom of Information Act. Largely there are few information requests that have been filed. In addition, there hasn’t been appeals to court. However, the Office of the Ombudsman has received complaints from Media and lawyers related to the right to information. The Government has appointed Information Officers to promote and support implementation of the law.

The Open Democracy and Sustainable Development Initiative (ODESUDI) a non governmental organisation is keenly promoting the implementation of the Access to information law in Rwnada. In particular ODESUDI monitors implementation, trains and is setting up a Web–based system to facilitate monitoring of compliance. It has held meetings with Ombudsman to explore ways to help the institution on realizing its mandate

Recommendations

  1. Reporting is a key component of accountability. The Government of Rwanda should with utmost urgency meet its reporting obligations, particularly on measures it has implemented to promote the right to information.
  2. It is also recommended that Rwanda urgently ratify and implement the African Charter on the values and principles of public administration. This is essential to reform public service from secrecy to openness, a key asset to curbing a culture of impunity.
  3. Rwanda should adopt measures to require leaders to declare assets and for citizens to access this information as essential for public accountability. The government should consider laws to facilitate this important reform.

 


http://www.achpr.org/states/

2 Rwanda Economic update May 2013, World Bank

3  M.M Ansari, Impact of Right to Information on Development: A Perspective on India’s Recent Experiences

4  Adopted in Cape Town, South Africa on 19th September 2011 is the first declaration on access to information on the African continent available at http://www.africanplatform.org/campaign/apai-declaration/

5  APAI declaration available at http://www.africanplatform.org/campaign/apai-declaration/

6  Article 34 of The Constitution of Rwanda

7  Article 3 law relating to access to information in Rwanda

8  Article 6 law relating to access to information

9  Article 13 law relating to access to information

10  Ministerial order No 009/07.01.13 of 19/12/2013 determining private organs to which the law relating to access to information applies

11  Article 7 law relating to access to information

12  Article 10 law relating to access to information

13  Article 5 of The Constitution of Rwanda

14  Article 9 law relating to access to information

15  Article 3 of ministerial order No 007/07.01/13 of 27/12/2013 determining the time limit for the provision of information or the explanations for not providing it.

16  Articles 6 ministerial order No 007/07.01/13 of 27/12/2013 determining the time limit for the provision of information or the explanations for not providing it.

17  Article 16 law relating to access to information

18  Chapter v miscellaneous and final provisions , law number 01/2012/OL of 02/05/2012 institution the penal code provides sanctions for refusal or delay to disclose or provide information (article 590 and 591)

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