By Mwakwaya Raymond and Charles Ogallo
Public institutions have been challenged to strictly adhere to the law on Access to Information (ATI) Act by making public information on Covid-19 related funds.
Commission for Administration of Justice chairperson Florence Kajuju warned that refusal by public entities to release information to the public on how the funds were spent would lead to breach of the ATI Act.
Speaking recently during a training of journalists on ATI forum in Mombasa, Ms Kajuju said the Office of Ombudsman has been enforcing strict compliance to its COVID-19 circular No.1/2019 released early this year on Access to Information in all public institutions to ensure increased transparency particularly on the pandemic mitigation interventions.
“On this day, the Commission directed all public institutions including County Governments at a minimum either on their websites or on any other suitable mediums, including print media, audio visual, notice boards, barazas, and local radio FMs, to without prompting, provide certain information on its utilization of public funds allocated for COVID 19 intervention” she says.
RELEASE ALL INFORMATION
Ms Kajuju, who is also the Secretary General for Office of African Ombudsman Mediator Association, said the information released should include amounts of money received, either from government allocations, loans, grants or in any other form and expenditure of such monies.
Public institutions would be required also to release to public all contracts specifying the contractual sum and contract period entered into for the purchase of goods and/or services in respect of COVID 19; and the names of the service providers, contractors or individuals to whom the contracts have been awarded , according to the commission circular released in August , 2020.
The Commission has also developed and published several information, communication and education (IEC) materials namely handbooks on best practices on implementation of Access to Information as while as a guide on proactive disclosure for public entities at national and county government levels to help enhance various stakeholders’ knowledge on the right of ATI to improve compliance with the ATI law, according to her.
To assist County governments in complying with Section 96(3) of the County Governments Act, No. 17 of 2012 which requires counties to domesticate the ATI law, Kajuju said the Commission has developed a ‘Model Law on Access to Information for County Governments’.
According to the Commission’s chairperson the model law will act as a guide on the minimum ingredients for County governments ATI Law which ensures uniformity and that the spirit of the national law is maintained.
“The Commission will therefore offer technical support to all the 47 county governments in the development of their county ATI laws,” she added.
Despite gains that we have made, several setbacks continue to impede the Commission’s ability to effectively execute the ATI mandate, key among them being inadequate funding and the lack of regulations.
“Even though the ATI law has been operational since 21st September 2016, its regulations are yet to be passed. I am happy to state that as the custodians of the ATI law, we have developed these regulations as stipulated under section 25 of the ATI Act” said Ms Kajuju.
She added that the Commission in 2018 constituted an inter-agency Committee chaired by the Commissioner in charge of ATI to spearhead the process of drafting the regulations.
“I can further confirm that these regulations, which are currently awaiting signature by the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, were subjected to extensive public participation and stakeholder engagement. Once signed, the Commission will again hold a series of stakeholder consultations before the same is tabled before Parliament as required by the Constitution,” she added.
The Commission will also focus on ensuring compliance with section 17 of the ATI Act which requires all public entities to computerize their records within three years since the law came into force, which was essentially by September, 2019.
She further emphasised the need for journalists to access information saying that the right to access to information is closely bound with press freedom as well as freedom of speech.
For this reason, the chairperson said the Commission was keen on engaging the media on two levels namely: Individual journalists need to access information to generate credible content and file sound reports.
The Commission in collaboration with the Media Council of Kenya MCK developed a Journalists Handbook on ATI and for structured engagement with the media on ATI matters. The MOU was signed on 28th September 2020.