Advocacy & campaigns
Tanzania: Political will required to achieve freedom of information
2010-04-22, Issue 478
On April 14, 2010 during the ongoing Parliament meeting in Dodoma, Hon. Damas P. Nakei, MP for Babati Rural asked a question in the House wanting to know the limitations on an MP to access public information held by Government and what type of information an MP might be denied. A Coalition comprising eleven Civil Society organisations (two from outside Tanzania) organized and held meetings and public hearings countrywide to collect people’s views. All along, it emerged that the public was not only interested in the freedom to access information but wanted this to be pronounced as a basic right – hence the notion of Right to Information in the discourse of the Coalition’s work.
On April 14, 2010 during the ongoing Parliament meeting in Dodoma, Hon. Damas P. Nakei, MP for Babati Rural asked a question in the House wanting to know the limitations on an MP to access public information held by Government and what type of information an MP might be denied.
This question, together with two other supplementary questions asked by Hon. Nakei himself and Hon. Zitto Kabwe, were answered by the Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office (Policy, Coordination and Parliamentary Affairs), Hon. Phillip Marmo who went on to detail the rights and limitations of a Member of Parliament in accessing public information quoting section 10 of the The Parliamentary Immunities, Power and Privileges Act (Cap. 296), R.E., 2002 regarding accessing information from public offices.
In his response, Minister Marmo made remarks which as the Coalition on the Right to Information we find calls for clarification so as to set the record straight: The following is an unofficial translation of what the Minister said:
“The limitations include the ones I mentioned in my supplementary answer, but let it be remembered that there are huge demands for public information and worldwide, where there is a huge public demand, including parliamentarians wanting to access information from government offices, there are usually processes to ensure this including a law providing greater details. This legislation is normally called the Freedom of Information Act.
In our country, for all this time, we have not seen a push or demand for such a law from the general public, parliamentarians or even from the media. This is why we have continued to use the current procedures”.
Concluding the exchange, Hon Samuel Sitta (MP), Speaker of the National Assembly, urged the parliamentarians to make good use of Rule 81 which allows them individually or through respective Parliamentary Standing Committees to table motions for debate and passage, rather than just complain about inadequate laws.
The Coalition for the Right to Information is greatly shocked by the statement made by Hon. Marmo that there has not been any demand from the public or media or Parliamentarians for a law that will grant the right to access information that is in the hands of government and its departments and agencies.
THE STAKEHOLDERS COALITION ENGAGEMENT, 2006 - 2010
In February 2005, the URT Constitution, 1977, was amended for the 14th time to delete and introduce a new Article 18 that provides for full rights to demand access and disseminate information.
That revolutionary step proved that the government had recognised the right of citizens to access information.
Numerous steps have followed after the above constitutional development including the preparation of a Government Communications Policy.
In October 2006, there was another historical milestone when the Government published on its website a draft Bill for the Freedom of Information Act, 2006.
This particular draft bill opened doors for various stakeholders to engage in a nationwide debate around this basic human right. It was discerned that the Bill did not meet the spirit of the constitutional provisions and could not stand up to meet international best practice. Rather than ensure access, it was mainly in contravention of the foundational principles of the Freedom of Information.
In the draft bill, access to information from public institutions and whistleblower protection was seen to have been downplayed and given scant attention. The bill also continued to place a shield on unnecessary secrecy on many categories of information. Since this draft bill was seen as having a lot of deficiencies, stakeholders rejected the bill and urged the government to give them time to undertake public consultation. This request was granted by the Government.
The Coalition which comprises eleven Civil Society organisations (two from outside Tanzania) organized and held meetings and public hearings countrywide to collect people’s views. All along, it emerged that the public was not only interested in the freedom to access information but wanted this to be pronounced as a basic right – hence the notion of Right to Information in the discourse of the Coalition’s work.
Stakeholder proposals on a bill for the Right to Information Act were then prepared and officially submitted to the Government in August 2007, with copies of the same distributed to all members of Parliament and the Cabinet, various Government institutions and agencies as well as non State actors deemed interested in this particular issue. The bill proposed by stakeholders factored in broader national interests including the need for a transparent framework in which a citizen can access to particular pieces of information held in Government offices. Around 7,000 copies of the proposed bill booklets were disseminated to the public and various newspapers published the proposals in the form of pullouts, feature articles, analyses and commentaries.
Additionally, issues relating to Media Services were discussed and debated, in accordance with the principles established by the media profession. As was advised, Media Services became a separate realm leading to a separate set of recommendations for a draft Media Services Bill prepared by the Coalition and submitted to the Government officially in October 2008. Again, copies of such recommendation booklets were disseminated widely to all Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and key Government institutions and agencies as well as non-state actors.
Furthermore, the Coalition has had two meetings so far with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Development under the capable leadership of Hon. Jenista Mhagama, MP, whose contribution and cooperation has all along been immensely sound. The Committee has proved to be active and in true defence of national interests, judging from active contributions in improving the stakeholders’ recommendations.
However, there has not been sufficient cooperation and response from the Government in working towards the enactment of good information and media services laws. For instance, there has never been an official response to all the developments made throughout the stakeholder consultation processes leading to the drafting of the recommendations despite the Coalitions attempts in keeping the Government informed all the time.
It is not known todate whether the Government rejected or accepted the stakeholder recommendations. Attempts by the Coalition to seek audience and have joint meetings with Government experts to strike a common position have proved futile. The Coalition wrote three times to the Hon. Minister for Information, Culture and Sports, George Huruma Mkuchika on February 2, 2009; on September 8, 2009 and on November 30 in request for such a joint meeting. The three letters notwithstanding, there has never been a response from the Minister or his Ministry, not even an acknowledgement of receipt of the communications from the Coalition!
The Parliamentary Standing Committee met with the Coalition on January 20 2010 in a meeting at which the Deputy Minister for Information, Culture and Sports, Hon. Joel Bendera represented the Government. The Deputy Minister insisted that the process towards the enactment of a Media Services and Control Act was underway and that the next stage would be to write a Cabinet paper, a statement which has also been repeated by Minister Mkuchika. In spite of all this, none of the two has provided explanation on the Right to Information Act process. It is our considered concern that the Right to Information Bill has been shelved by the Government!
It is quite disappointing therefore to hear Minister Marmo say that there has never been any demand from the public, parliamentarians or media for a good law to enable Tanzanian citizens to access legitimate public information as they may require to make informed decisions in their daily lives. The efforts made so far are not worthy the neglect that we continue to see from the Government. It now seems clear that the Government does not want to listen to people’s views in this matter.
The Right to Information is a basic right for every human being which is guaranteed and protected in the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania and a number of international and regional instruments for the protection of human rights, most of which Tanzania is actually a signatory.
It is a responsibility of the Government to enact good laws to enhance the accessibility of information to its citizens for the enjoyment of such rights. But if the Government is not ready to take up this responsibility, then we would like to join hands with the House Speaker, to ask Members of Parliament to use Rule 81 to have individual MPs or Parliamentary Committees initiate and table a private motion for a bill to enact a law that would guarantee the right to information in Tanzania. The Coalition will be ready to work with any authority wanting to pursue this course in the future, be it an individual MP or a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
The coming of a law that guarantees the Right to Information will facilitate the speedy transformation of our society, in terms of democracy and people-centred development. It is also in line with the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, including eradicating poverty and fighting crime, corruption and embezzlement in public offices. This is the sure way to promote socio-economic and political development in the country.
The Coalition is proud of and encouraged by the fact that a good number of Tanzanians across the country participated in the preparation of the recommendations that have been submitted to the Government demanding that there be the Right to Information and Media Services Bills to be enacted into laws. Beyond the bills, the Coalition has already prepared recommendations for regulations to guide the smooth implementation of the two laws as soon as they are enacted.
And in order for the two laws not to conflict with other statutes, the stakeholder recommendations also include a proposition of existing laws that would be in contradiction with the coming two laws. Therefore, it is being proposed that some laws and/sections of laws be repealed as a way of permitting the smooth implementation of the laws to be enacted.
The Stakeholders Coalition is led by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) and includes: the Media Institute of Southern Africa Tanzania Chapter (MISA – Tan); Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA); The Bar Association of Tanzania Mainland (TLS); Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC); Tanzania Network for Legal Education (TANLET); National Organization for Legal Assistance (nola); Media Owners Association of Tanzania (MOAT) and Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TNGP). Other partners in the Coalition who have offered input and technical expertise are the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) based in India and Article XIX based in London, UK.
Kajubi D. Mukajanga
Media Council of Tanzania &
Chairman of the Coalition for the Right to Information
April 20, 2010