Will RTI Ever Be Promulgated in Tanzania?

10 March 2016

By Deus Kibamba

The author is trained in Political Science, International Politics and International Law. This article first appeared The Citizen.

There are things worthy of not forgetting in life. One of such very memorable landmarks during the Fourth Phase government of Dr Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete is his 10-year promise to legislate for the right of access to information.

This right happens to be a highly prioritised entitlement that all persons should have regardless of national or other frontiers. Hence, President Kikwete, otherwise known as JK during his tenure, scooped accolades for having entered State House with such a universally prominent promise.

In 2005, JK already envisioned the immediate taking to Parliament of a bill for the promotion and protection of the right of access to information as well as media professionalism. What a considerate president, I thought!

Come 2006, the dream nearly materialised. A bill for this purpose, dubbed the Freedom of Information Bill, 2006 came into being. Unfortunately, the draft legislation missed out on a number of principles from the very outset. Pillar one was the breach of the principle of distinct separation between the Right to Information as a modern concept that has come to replace the Freedom of Information discourse on the one hand and the Media Services and Professionalism (MSP) regime, which stands on the other side of the continuum. Under Kassim Mpenda as the Director of Information Services, the government technocrats went off-track and coined a hugely messed-up draft jumbling together the notions of Right to Information (RTI) and Media Services and Professionalism in one bowl. The bill was highly unprofessional, very reader unfriendly and cumbersome to comprehend. That was the beginning of the end to a good great promise by the professorial head of the Tanzanian state.

Ever since, the bill process suffered paralysis. On the one hand, the consultants and professionals who were behind it started feeling ashamed of the bill following a step-by-step process and content analysis undertaken by information and media stakeholders. It was an evident proof of the wealth of diverse brains Tanzania has had since its inception in 1964.

The next phases were marred by lack of agreement between the professionals within and outside the government of Tanzania. At some point, Hon Judge Joseph Sinde Warioba (pictured), sitting in the capacity of moderator at a media and information stakeholders forum held at the historic Karimjee Hall, wondered how there could such a big gap between the ‘drafters’ of the bill from the government of Tanzania and from stakeholders. It took him time to come to full knowledge that the matter may not have been mere diversity of opinion but a clear clash of interests between those deciding to stand for and in defence of Tanzania as a nation and the selfish, short-sighted interests of the status quo defenders only interested in titles and positions. Without delay, we saw those interested in positions assume big posts as spokespersons of the government while the title-mongers vehemently marathoned into RTI and FOI ‘PhDs’. Thanks to the bills process, some additional nationals are doctorate holders today.

Year in, year out, Dr Kikwete continued to give promises to legislate RTI or FOI or MSP. In his very many travels, he repeated the promises in various international forums, be it in Sao Paulo, Bavaria, London, Geneva or Honolulu. He truly was good in preserving speeches. Dr Kikwete learned from article 40 (1) and (2) the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977 as revised that he would no longer be the head of state nor government by November 2015. Like his predecessors, Kikwete started his farewells and left for Msoga with his big promise unfulfilled. What a comedy!

Now that new president, Dr John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, has been at Magogoni for 120 plus days, I do hope that he bequeaths the big promise to see it to its delivery. In terms of strategy and approach, the two bills must continue to sail through two different ministries but with a lot of inter and intra-ministerial liaison as well as reaching out to the stakeholders for views and inputs. I look forward to completing the newly envigorated legislating process with two state-of-the-art laws: on for RTI and the other for MSP. I decide to save the discussion of their main contents for future Talking Point editions. Congratulations to the two ministers responsible for the bills.

God bless Tanzania!

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