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New era beckons as sensitive govt information goes public

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The Commission On Administrative Justice says it expects to finalise on the regulations for the Access to Information (ATI) Act, 2016, by the end of this year. The Act provides a framework for citizens to access information from public entities and some private bodies.

Speaking during the launch of a public awareness campaign on the Access to Information Act, Rarieda MP and former Ombudsman Otiende Amollo said the process was slowed down by the delay in appointment of the new Ombudsman and the constitution of the commission. Amollo noted that even without the regulations Article 35 of the Constitution on access to information enable Kenyans to seek information from government institutions.

“The only way we will have accountability is if we have access to information held by the State and its Agencies. In addition to Public Participation in budget making, the other thing we must do is budget tracking. If you participated, you must therefore follow and see what was actually passed and when it was passed how was it implemented. That is where the media and other bodies come in, that can be done even before and without waiting for the auditor general to come much later and do the assessment,” Amollo added.

The campaign Elewa, Eleza, Eneza has been developed by The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA) and partners to drive public awareness about the Access to Information Act and how Kenyans can access this information. It comes on the back of President Uhuru Kenyatta calling on all Government entities and public-owned institutions to publish full details of tenders and awards as part of Proactive Disclosure.

Auditor General Edward Ouko, who also attended the launch, said his office is in the process of finalising a framework to enable civil society and the wider Kenyan public input on the audit process through social accountability audits.

“My take on this is until we devolve accountability to the citizenry we will probably still continue to do the same thing without action or change. That’s the principle on which social audits or accountability is based on. It recognises that the Auditor General must find a way of coordinating and working with the people on the ground so that this office can one day tell the citizens that it has audited the shilling from the time it was budgeted, recorded and where it landed to change Wanjiku’s life,” Mr. Ouko said.

The Auditor General noted though there are numerous reports from his office highlighting various discrepancies in spending, little or no action has been taken to hold public officers accountable with most Kenyans unaware of the content of the reports.

According to the Director of Legal & Advisory service at Office of the Ombudsman, Vincent Chahale, it is the responsibility of citizens to seek out such information.

“Responsibility is two fold, citizens have to take it upon themselves to demand for this information and through there representatives seek action. Secondly, State agencies are required by law to proactively publish reports that are of interest to the public. The Ombudsman comes in when these agencies fail to avail this information to the public,” said Mr Chahale.

 Amollo, Ouko and Chahale were some of the panellists at the event held on Tuesday evening in Nairobi. Other panellists included former Women representative of Nyeri Priscilla Nyokabi, who sponsored the Access to Information Bill in 2015, Council of Governors CEO Jacqueline Mogeni ,  Senior Programme Officer, Access to Information, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Sandra Musoga,Africa Check’s Kenya deputy editor Vincent Ng’ethe and activist Boniface Mwangi.

“It is our right as citizens to access information from public entities and some private ones. It is important we keep the government accountable because only a well informed citizenry can do this, thus the need for this campaign,” said TISA’s National Coordinator Wanjiru Gikonyo. “With this campaign we aim to create awareness and educate the people on their rights, as well as show them how to use the Act. By doing so we believe we will see more Kenyans using the Access to Information Act and demanding more from public entities.”

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TISA has partnered with Article 19, Transparency International, Katiba Institute, Centre For Enhancing Democracy & Good Governance (CEDGG), Africa Centre for Open Governance, Hewlett Foundation and The Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ) Office of the Ombudsman.

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BT Correspondent
BT Correspondenthttp://www.businesstoday.co.ke
editor [at] businesstoday.co.ke
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