Tanzanian Government Offers Modified RTI Legislation

23 June 2016

The Tanzanian government has produced a new right to information bill, posted on Parliament’s website (text) and offered on first reading June 23.

The bill is signed by Harrison Mwakyembe, Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, and dated May 10. Activists tweeted about the new version, but there does not appear to have been news coverage of it.

One controversial clause in a previous version, which appeared to ban the “public use” of information has been modified, but now would prohibit the distortion of information.

Creation of the legislation has been much delayed. (See March FreedomInfo.org article by Deus Kibamba and June 2015 article when the bill was put on hold in the face of opposition. The previous version, from February 2015, received a poor RTI Rating, according to a FreedomInfo.org article.)

“It came as a surprise to most observers,” commented one official of a nongovernmental organization, speculating that the timetable may well be related to the OGP, as the second action plan period comes to an end at the end of this month.  He called it “a slightly better bill than before, but still with very significant problems.”

Public Interest Exemption

The bill contains a fairly typical array of exemptions (national security, privacy, commercial interests), but also permits an “information holder” to withhold information if “the disclosure is not justified in the public interest.”

The deliberative process exemption permits the withholding is information if disclosure would “significantly undermine the information holder’s ability to give adequate and judicious consideration to a matter of which no final decision has been taken and which remains the subject of active consideration.”

The bill contains a stiff penalty for unapproved disclosures. “Any person who discloses exempt information withheld by the public authority in contravention of this Act, commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not less than fifteen years but not exceeding twenty years.

Prohibition on Distorting Information

A minimum penalty of five years would apply to a recipient of information who distorts the information. The bill says “a person who receives the information from the information holder shall not distort such information.”

This appears to be a softer version of the controversial Section 18 of the February 2015 version which said, “ Information obtained by a person requesting from the information holder shall not be for public use.”

The time frames for handling of requests is supplemented by a clause providing more latitude to the government:

The information holder may defer the provision of access to information until the happening of a particular event, including the taking of some action required by law or some administrative action, or until the expiration of a specified time, where it is reasonable to do so in the public interest or having regard to normal and proper administrative practices.

There appears to be no recourse to the courts or to an information commission to appeal denials.

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