Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) urges the United Republic of Tanzania to strengthen the Freedom of Information Bill that is currently before Parliament to bring it in line with regional and international standards. The right to information is also recognized by several African Union treaties ratified by Tanzania. These include the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and the African Union Youth Charter.
AFIC also calls upon Tanzania to ensure that the Media Services Bill does not obstruct peoples’ right of access to information. The Access to Information Bill in particular seeks to operationalize Articles 18(1) and 18(2) of the Constitution which provides,
“Without prejudice to expression the laws of the land, every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to seek, receive and impart or disseminate information and ideas through any media regardless of national frontiers, and also has the right of freedom from interference with his communications.” …
“ Every citizen has the right to be informed at all times of various events in the country and in the world at large which are of importance to the lives and activities of the people and also of issues of importance to society”
However, these bills are far from perfect. Tanzania risks passing premature Bills. The bills in their current state fail to meet standards set by the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in 2002 and African Union Model Law on Access to Information adopted by the same Commission in 2013.
Whereas AFIC welcomes recent efforts to legislate in favour of citizens access to information but is concerned with key provisions in the Freedom of Information Bill. The Bill does not meet standard set by the African Model on Access to Information in respect of: obligation for officials to create, manage and disclose records, acknowledgement of receipt of information requests, duty to assist requesters, long time frames and procedures for transfer of requests. Other concerns include open-ended deferrals, restrictive form of request, fees and wide exemptions among others. We urge Parliament to consider these recommendations on the Access to Information Bill.
The Media Services Bill also needs strengthening by including specific articles recognizing freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom; establishing criteria for awarding lincences, establishment of a Public Broadcasters Board as well as appointment of an Independent Media Council among other recommendations on the Media Services Bill.
Tanzania, like most African states has come a long way in terms of the right to information. The proposition of Bills that promote freedom of expression and access to information is a commendable step for Tanzania. It is imperative that openness applies to both public and private institutions financed by public funds. Good governance is about open and accountable institutions and observance of the rule of law. The Africa Freedom of Information Centre calls upon the relevant actors to take up a role in securing absolute access to information and freedom of expression in Tanzania, by revising the Access to Information and Media Services Bills so as to ensure an open government culture and practice.