Kenyan Assembly Approves Access to Information Bill

28 April 2016

Kenya’s National Assembly on April 28 approved an Access to Information Bill on third reading, according to media accounts such as one by Alphonce Shiundu in Standard Media and one by James Mbaka in The Star.

There is ongoing  deliberation by a legal committee on whether it should be forwarded to the Senate for consideration or move directly to the president for assent, according to a close observer of the situation.

“Last-minute changes” add a Sh 1 million fine for anyone who leaks classified information that is likely to jeopardize national security, or that which relates to witness protection, it was reported. There’s also a provision for a maximum jail term of three years.

“But the Bill says `it shall be a defence’ to say that while the information was classified it had already been leaked and shared widely `in the public domain,’ ” Standard Media reported.

The bill gives the government the power to reject any information that will “cause substantial harm to the ability of the government to manage the economy of Kenya” or that which involves “unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual… or infringe on commercial interests….”

There is a public interest provision.

“Despite anything contained in (this law), a public entity or private body may be required to disclose information where the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests,” reads the bill. To justify public interest, one will need to show that the information that is being held has to be released to “promote accountability of public entities to the public, ensure the expenditutre of public funds is subject to effective oversight.”

Information to ensure public safety will have to be released upon request.

All government information over 30 years old will be open unless the State “proves” that the information has to remain classified.

The bill sets has timelines of between 48 hours and 21 days for the government to provide information.

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