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AFIC Welcomes UN Human Rights Council Recommendation to Angola to Amend and Implement Freedom of Information Law

Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) welcomes United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) draft recommendations No. 134. (40, 47, 56, 64 and 126) on the urgent need for the Government of Angola to amend and strengthen the country’s freedom of information law as well as promote citizens right to information through various actions.

Despite the importance of the right to information in advancing good governance, democracy and accountability and glaring deficits of the same in Angola, the previous UPR did not address itself to the situation of citizens’ right of access to information in Angola. It should be noted that despite the country’s enormous natural resources and the country’s leaders and people close to power are rated among the richest in the world , 2 in every 3 people live in absolute poverty.

In addition, inspite of having adopted a freedom of information law in 2002, the secretive character of government business has not changed. Many citizens are not aware about their right to information and how this could be exercised through the law. During, the last national election, thousands of eligible voters did not have basic information about the exercise, hence inability to participate effectively in choosing the country’s leaders.

In 2012, AFIC analysed Angola’s Freedom of Information Act on the basis of regional and international standards and established that some of the problems affecting implementation of the law arise from the law itself. The main areas of concern include limited scope (excludes private bodies), wide exemptions, ambiguity, lack of specific obligations on establishing, keeping and disseminating records, language and accessibility.   

AFIC is also concerned that despite being among the first countries to adopt the law, Angola has not implemented it. The Monitoring Commission to oversee implementation has not been established, training of officials and creating awareness of the population among other key aspects are lacking. 

 

During the Pre-session of the Universal Periodic Review on Angola held at the beginning of October 2014, AFIC addressed diplomats in Geneva on the above and called upon them to consider recommendations on the above. The Government of Angola acknowledged the above problems.

 

AFIC welcomes the recommendations and calls upon the Government of Angola to expedite amendments to the Freedom of Information Act in close consultation with civil society. We remain committed to support the country in realizing this recommendation.  

 

For more information please contact:

Gilbert Sendugwa

Coordinator/Head of Secretariat

Africa Freedom of Information Centre

gilbert@africafoicentre.org  

 

Africa-Europe Summit must put Citizens at the Centre of the Intercontinental Partnership

The fourth European Union-Africa Summit will take place in Brussels on 2-3 April 2014. It will bring together Heads of State and leaders from the institutions and organs of both continents. This Summit is a follow-up of previous ones held in Cairo (2000) Lisbon (2007) and Tripoli (2010). The forthcoming event is an important time of to reflect on the value, lessons and commitments for the future of the partnership.

The two continents now strongly recognise shared interest and vision in intercontinental and global affairs. Addressing terrorism, piracy, unemployment, human rights violations, peace and security concerns, democracy deficits are some of the examples that affect both continents irrespective of where they happen. 

Through the Africa-Europe strategy adopted in 2007 and first action plan adopted in 2010, both continents have partnered in addressing common challenges and promoting  common interest and shared vision. 

The partnership has undoubtedly been useful to both Africa and Europe. The two continents have worked together in promoting democracy and human rights, trade, peace and security and social issues.  It is common knowledge that before year 2000 elections were not common in many parts of Africa and where attempts were made they fell far below standard. Consequently, nearly one third of the continent was in perpetual conflict, in most cases occasioned by or a consequence of coup detats. Election observation and recommendations of both African Union and European Union have progressively been reflected in electoral reforms in many parts of Africa. The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance came into force in 2013 and provides an important standard on which to benchmark democracy in Africa.

Further, efforts have been made to improve the human rights situation in Africa and Europe. The African Union completed its human rights strategy while the institutional framework for the promotion and enforcement of human rights in Africa has been improved. Specifically, the work of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights have gained recognition in Africa.  This as it may, citizens especially in Africa continue to suffer human rights violations especially regarding the right to freedom of expression, association and information.

The partnership between Africa and Europe has contributed to addressing piracy and terrorism. These problems affect trade, life and property, human rights and escalate impunity. They also provide convenient excuse for lack of accountability. Through concerted efforts an African Union led process with support of the European Union there has been progress generally in Africa but most especially in Eastern and Central Africa where both problems had escalated. 

Although the partnership has only been part of the contribution, it has provided an important framework. For example, during the Arab spring, debate on African democracy and need for regular, free and fair elections became significant both in Africa and around the world. 

The 4th Summit is significant in several respects. The negotiations that have preceded the Summit have been coordinated by the African Union and the issue of engaging Africa as one has been prominent. Africa has pushed for key areas for its development including infrastructure, energy, democracy and human rights. Promoting trade and addressing illegal migration have also come prominently on the European side while cooperation and consideration of joint positions at global level has also been considered.

Civil society under the coordination of Africa- Europe Joint Steering Committee convened an intercontinental forum from October 23-25, 2013 in Brussels to review Africa-Europe partnership and propose areas for attention at the 4th Summit and second joint-Africa-Europe action plan. A general conclusion was that citizens should be at the centre of the partnership.

 

What is the role of citizens in the partnership?

The Lisbon Declaration envisaged and recognised the role of civil society in the partnership. However, previous engagements between Africa and Europe have not fully nurtured this role. Consequently, not many ordinary citizens are aware about this partnership, its structures and benefits. Importantly, the shared vision and interest in democracy, development, human rights, transparency, mutual accountability and inclusive development have largely remained boardroom matters of the partnership. The African Union has a vision of building a people centered Union. This is true also for Europe that strides to ensure that they are accountable to citizens in decision they make.

The new action plan for the partnership must address the central role of citizens. The role of civil society should be clarified right from the beginning to include promotion and popularisation of the partnership, its focus and priorities to citizens. Civil society in Africa and Europe should monitor the implementation of commitments by both Commissions and Unions to ensure that the partnership produces lasting benefits for citizens. Efforts should be made to ensure that all organs and institutions in the two continents are brought on board to understand and implement commitments in the partnership.

Civil society space should protected and guaranteed at the highest decision making level in the partnership. Further, the two Commissions should ensure that funding for civil society work go beyond support for coordination meetings to cover planned activities of Steering Committees in Africa and Europe.

Citizens need unhindered access to information not just about the partnership but everything including matters covered by the partnership such as conduct of elections, trade negotiations and treaties and concessions  and other matters of the two continents. For this reason that ratification and effective implementation of treaties that guarantee the right of access to information should be given high priority in the action plan and the upcoming Pan-African Programme.

Finally, the Summit should agree mechanisms to facilitate lesson learning from this partnership that may be of relevance to other partnerships. For example, what be of use in the Africa-China partnership or what could the Africa-Europe partnership learn from other partnerships.

Gilbert SendugwaAfrica Freedom of Information CentreMember, Africa CSO Steering Committee 

Analysis of Access to Information Oversight Mechanisms in Africa

Introduction

This paper is based on the examination of 9 oversight mechanisms in the respective RTI laws of South Africa, Angola, Uganda, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Niger, Guinea and Rwanda. Analysis is mainly drawn from the Model Law on Access to Information for Africa. Comparison is also drawn from other jurisdictions and is intended to draw lessons and inform discussions on strengthening RTI implementation and oversight mechanisms in Africa.

The adoption of access to information laws in Africa started slowly with South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ethiopia adopting respective national access to information laws in the past decade . Since the year 2010 there has been increased pace of adoption of access to information laws in Africa with Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Tunisia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Corte d’Ivoire. The role of oversight and enforcement is critical in the implementation of any legislation because it provides a mechanism of incentives and sanctions for compliance.

The Model Law on Access to Information for Africa  establishes functions of oversight bodies to include monitoring and regulating public and private bodies; receiving annual reports from information officers; hearing appeals; auditing compliance; imposing fines for noncompliance;  ordering compliance; entering, searching and seizing information; producing reports; promoting awareness regarding freedom of access to information as well as commenting and providing advice on strengthening legislation. Section below presents finds and observations arising from analysis of access to information oversight mechanisms in Africa.

Key Observations and Findings

Africa has mixed models for oversight under respective access to information laws. These range from National Human Rights Institutions (e.g. South Africa and Guinea), Ombudsman (e.g. Ethiopia, Niger and Rwanda), Attorney general (e.g. Nigeria), Parliament (e.g. Uganda), Monitoring Commission (e.g. Angola) and Independent Information Commissioner (e.g. Liberia) among others.

Generally speaking, powers of oversight bodies vary from as weak as being advisory to being as strong as enforcement with promotional and capacity building activities being in the middle of the continuum. In a number of cases the role is reduced to advisory and opinion while in some cases especially Liberia oversight is empowered to play a more enforceable function expected to propel the advancement of RTI in the country.

Reporting is the most common function shared by respective RTI oversight institutions in Africa. 7 of the 9 studied oversight mechanisms are required to report to respective national legislatures on RTI implementation. South Africa, Angola, Uganda, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria and Niger are required to produce and report on annual basis to respective national legislatures. It should be noted that whereas the law provides for this annual reporting, the law does not impose duty on respective legislatures to consider, debate and make declarations or sanctions that would advance the right to information in respective countries.

It has also been noted that compliance with reporting is lacking in a number of countries. In Uganda for example, an information request filed by AFIC  to the Parliament of Uganda and a parallel one to the Office of the Prime Minister in 2011 confirmed lack of compliance. The Liberian Information Commissioner was by March 2013 yet to file his first report to Parliament.

The Model law identifies monitoring and development of key guidelines and codes as an essential role for RTI oversight bodies. Six of the 9 oversight institutions analysed have monitoring, development of guidelines and codes of practice as one of their functions. The South African Human Rights Commission, Angola Monitoring Commission, Guinea National Independent Institution of Human Rights, Liberia Independent Information Commissioner as well as Ombudsmen of Ethiopia and Rwanda have monitoring mandates as part of respective functions. Whereas these institutions are established under the law, it is observable that in some cases they are yet to be operationalised while in other instances those that have been established are not effectively performing the monitoring function.

Four oversight bodies have mandates to hear and make determination on access to information appeals. Oversight bodies for Angola, Ethiopia, Liberia and that of Niger have specific mandates regarding hearing and determining appeals. It is not clear the extent to which these bodies have handled appeals as efforts to obtain information regarding number, nature and reaction to decisions was not possible. Efforts to obtain this information from other sources e.g. reports to national legislature proved futile as these records were not readily available on line.

Appeal to RTI oversight bodies would more accessible, quicker and cheap as opposed to filing appeals to formal courts.   

Three of the nine studied oversight bodies have mandate to promote access to information awareness among public officials and ordinary citizens. The South African Human Rights Commission, Ethiopia Ombudsman’s Office and Liberian Independent Information Commissioner are charged with responsibility of raising awareness of the law and rights. Knowledge of the law is essential to promote its observance and application by ordinary people and essential for public officials to implement and promote it. Among these mentioned agencies the South African High Commission has made effort to conduct community training and law clinics but awareness of the law and right to information among the population is still very limited. In most of the mentioned countries promotional functions is far from being implemented. 

Reviewing and providing appropriate recommendations on relevant laws is another function expected of the oversight bodies of South Africa, Angola, Ethiopia and Liberia. This function is essential to ensure that the various sectoral laws and policies are consistent with requirements for transparent and accountable operations of government bodies and other agencies covered by statutory disclosure regimes. AFIC’s experience is that this process needs dedicated staff who can review various bills and provide timely inputs into the process. Most oversight agencies do not have sufficient number of staff to execute this function. For example the Liberian Information Commissioner is yet to recruit staff while the South African Human Rights Commission has six staff dedicated for the entire access to information duties.

Big Problems

The most critical functions for effective RTI oversight are lacking in most ATI legislations in Africa. These include among others receiving reports from agencies covered by the law, auditing compliance, imposing fines for non compliance and ordering compliance.  No oversight body is mandated to impose fines for noncompliance, only the Attorney General of Nigeria is empowered to receive reports from information officers while only Nigeria and Liberia provide for auditing and ordering compliance.

Among the oversight agencies studied only Nigeria’s Attorney General is mandated by law to receive reports from agencies covered by FOIA. Reports received from covered bodies or sectors to the relevant are essential to enable the oversight mechanism to make appropriate decisions and recommendations regarding areas that need attention for effective implementation of RTI regimes. For example, the draft study by the Carter Center of implementation of access to information by seven of the targeted public agencies revealed that at agency level very little had been done despite laws having been in place for almost a decade. Reports by respective sectors to the oversight mechanism would provide a good basis to guide such agencies on how to institutionalise transparency regimes.

Further, this analysis reveals that none of the nine agencies studied is empowered by law to impose fines and sanctions for non compliance. It should be recalled that African traditional societies, colonial governments and post liberation governments operated and thrived on a culture of secrecy.  While organisation of societies has changed, some of their negative practices are hard to die. Oversight bodies need statutory power for incentives and sanctions to motivate a change from this culture.

Whereas the function of auditing and ordering compliance is important, only 2 of the nine studies oversight institutions are legally empowered to execute audits and issue orders. Just like financial audits, RTI audit would provide a healthy check for covered bodies to aspire to be responsive in their work.

Key Recommendations

1.    Separate functions and set up specific oversight bodies for ATI. Institutions such assigned additional ATI oversight responsible are many times themselves overburdened by primary duties of human rights, promotion, protection and defence or indeed administrative matters. Experience has shown that in cases where RTI oversight function was added as auxiliary to the institution’s existing functions, ATI oversight has not been given serious attention. In many respects such bodies are themselves already constrained by resource and capacity issues. South Africa has moved to separate RTI oversight function from the Human Rights Commission. The Scottish Information Commissioner, the RTI oversight agency in Scotland is restricted to provide oversight in respect of three related laws: The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002; The Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 and The INSPIRE (Scotland) Regulations 2009 where the Commission is mandated with three focused functions:

•    investigates applications and issues legally enforceable decisions; 

•    promotes good practice amongst public authorities; and

•    provides the public with information on their rights  This focus enables specialization and focus capacity strengthening which in turn facilitates better performance of expected functions.

2.    Review and strengthen functions and powers of oversight bodies: An oversight body needs sufficient power and authority to perform its functions. In a number of case RTI oversight bodies on the continent have advisory power without the teeth to enforce. It is recommended that existing laws be amended to provide oversight bodies with powers to audit, order compliance, investigate, sermon respondents among other provisions. The laws should also provide for incentives for compliance and sanctions for lack of compliance.

3.    Given that right to information covers various public and private bodies, RTI laws should provide for oversight bodies to have responsibility for promoting the law within government, private sector, civil society and the general population. 

4.    Two main factors that constrain implementation and oversight for transparency and accountability initiatives in Africa are lack of political will and capacity. It is recommended that training and capacity building both for the oversight agencies as well as implementing bodies should be part of the mandates of oversight bodies.

5.    In a number of countries access to information implementation has a number of times being considered under unfunded priorities yet absence of transparency and accountability has often times undermined the attainment of goals which these institutions prioritise. It is recommended that a 5% of all departmental resources be dedicated for ATI implementation. In addition, oversight bodies should be adequately funded, staffed and equipped to ensure effective oversight.

6.    Establish and strengthen Sub regional RTI regional frameworks, norms and standards.

7.    Legislatures should on receipt of reports from oversight bodies mandatorily discuss them for decisions, declarations and sanctions.

8.    CSOs under the coordination of a regional network like AFIC should prioritise monitoring RTI oversight bodies to ensure their effective functioning

9.    CSOs should design and implement focused advocacy for stronger and effective RTI oversight mechanism

Uganda Roads Authority (UNRA) Embraces Open Contracting

The Uganda Roads Authority has welcomed Partnership with Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) in the area of promoting value for money, access to information and citizen participation in public contracts. This communication was contained in a letter dated March 3, 2014 signed by Engineer Ssebbugga Kimeze, UNRA’s Executive Director. While communicating this decision, Mr. Kimeze welcomed the intention of UCMC to pilot test the community roads monitoring tool and allocated roads where the exercise could take place. UNRA also indicated that it was reviewing a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) proposed by UCMC to formalise a structured relationship to govern rules of engagement, communication and stakeholder engagements.

UNRA recognises the importance of disclosure and citizens participation in public contracting. While addressing a policy dialogue organised by the National Planning Authority and chaired by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Mr. David Luyimbazi announced that Uganda was soon joining the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) to enhance disclosure and citizen engagement. “If a public agency is spending a trillion shillings and the tax payer doesn’t know anything, then there is a problem”. Mr. Luyimbazi concluded.

This decision by UNRA is a positive development and will positively impact on the work of UCMC which brings together 22 civil society organisations that are committed to constructively engage public and private sector stakeholders on strengthening value for money and citizen engagement in public contracting in the sectors of health, education, roads, extractives, agriculture and environment. Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) convenes UCMC and promotes open contracting in Africa.

The subject of open contracting has recently gained attention at global, regional and national level. The October 2012 first Global Conference adopted Global Principles on Open Contracting that outline actions governments and multilateral agencies can play to enhance contract information disclosure and citizen participation. In recognising open contracting G8 leaders in the Lough Erne Declaration Declaration held that, “Governments should publish information on laws, budgets, spending, national statistics, elections and government contracts in a way that is easy to read and re-use, so that citizens can hold them to account”

Open contracting has become a common feature of Open Government forums at regional and global level. The first Africa Regional Outreach meeting held in Mombasa, Kenya in May 2013 and the London 2013 OGP Summit discussed open contracting at great length. It is also a common feature of online and physical discussions in Uganda and around the region. AFIC General Assembly that concluded at the end of January identified open contracting and open government as part of the networks priorities in the next four years.

AFIC General Meeting Concludes in Johannesburg with the adoption of 5-yr Strategic Plan

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula has commended Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) for its work in advancing the right of access to information in Africa. She observed that since 2010 AFIC has worked with her office on several initiatives including organising continental consultations on the model law on access to information, promotion of the ratification of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, advocacy for adoption of access to information laws and monitoring implementation. She welcomed the strategic planning process that AFIC has commenced and hoped that the new strategic plan will also cover aspects of promotion of the Tshwane Principles of National Security and Access to Information.

 

This was during the opening of AFIC’s General Assembly held in Johannesburg, South Africa attended by 35 participants including all 28 members of AFIC, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and partners AFIC. The new five-year strategic plan seeks to strengthen the right to information agenda at regional and international level and actualise the right to information by facilitating capacity of members and knowledge sharing. The Open Government Partnership, Open Contracting, Africa Model Law on Access to Information and African Union Treaties on Access to Information were identified as key driving factors for the new strategic plan.

 

The new Governing Council was elected with Mr. Henry Maina (Kenya) as Chairperson, Ms Zoe Titus (Namibia) Vice Chairperson, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai (Sierra Leone) Secretary, Alison Tilley (South Africa) Treasure with Prof. Colin Darch (South Africa), Anne Nderi (Kenya), Henri Christin Longendja (DR Congo) as Executive Members.

Africa: First Outreach Meeting rallies Support for OGP.
The first Open Government Partnership (OGP) Africa regional meeting was hosted by the Government of Kenya from May 29-30, 2013 at the Coastal City of Mombasa. The meeting aimed at outlining an Africa agenda for open governance, promoting OGP in Africa and sharing and learning from experiences in open governance from different parts of the continent and beyond. Another key objective was to mobilize non OGP member Governments to consider joining OGP. 

A civil society meeting organized by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre, International Commission of Jurists-Kenya, the World Bank Institute and OGP Independent CSO Coordinator preceded the main conference. It reviewed progress of OGP on the continent from the civil society perspective and outlined key expectations from the OGP regional meeting. Key among expectations was why Uganda had not joined the OGP despite meeting eligibility criteria. Civil society also wanted to know the OGP eligibility status of countries like Namibia, Zambia, Nigeria, Botswana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Ethiopia. Civil society also wanted to know how OGP relates with African processes like the African Peer Review Mechanism as well as the place of regional Economic Communities like ECOWAS, SADAC and EAC.
 
The meeting attracted over 100 government and civil society leaders from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Liberia, South Africa, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Mozambique, Tunisia, among other countries. There was also representation from other agencies such as the OGP Support Unit, the Independent OGP Civil Society Coordinator, the World Bank Institute, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, UNESCO, APRM Support Unit and The World Bank. 
The most fundamental outcome of the meeting was a visible and trustful relationship between Government and civil society representatives. Other specific outcomes include:

1.    Dr Fred Matiang’i, Kenya’s Minister of ICT promised that he will ensure that the long awaited Freedom of Information Bill is tabled to Parliament for consideration and adoption.
2.    Hon. Alhaji Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone Minister of Information and Communications promised that his Government will in the near future get the draft Freedom of information Bill adopted. He also indicated the country’s eagerness to join OGP.
3.    South Africa Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration, Ayanda Dlodlo called upon African governments to learn from Africa civil society who are networked and keep sharing and supporting each other on OGP in Africa.
4.    Minister Richard Twodong and Director of Information Simon Mayende promised that consultations would be expedited and Uganda’s OGP membership would be confirmed sooner than later.
5.    It was agreed that OGP is an essential platform to strengthen existing mechanisms such as the African peer Review Mechanism through its emphasis on dialogue, inclusiveness and timely action on grand challenges.
6.    The meeting further agreed that OGP should be practically tailored towards socio-economic justice and building an inclusive partnership that African citizens can relate with and truly be a part of.
7.    Civil society from Ghana promised to engage with Government on the basis of the country action plan to ensure that Government commitment in respect of the Freedom of Information Bill is expedited.
8.    Africa civil society agreed that it would be useful to hold a separate regional OGP meeting to discuss OGP and civil society engagement in Africa
9.    The tool http://africafoicentre.org/ogp/ developed by AFIC to help civil society monitor implementation of OGP commitments was welcomed. Civil society agreed that following the meeting they would meet at country level to deliberate on the status of implementation and share with the rest of the community through the Africa OGP CSO listserve.
10.    Civil society agreed to support each other in campaigning for eligible but non OGP member countries to expedite joining of OGP. In the same vein they committed to deepen engagement on OGP issues by mobilising other civil society “missing voices” at national level from different sectors.
11.    Civil society participants agreed to facilitate media and public debates about the OGP in their respective countries so that the issue is put firmly on the public agenda, improve public awareness and understanding of it and thereby make it a real issue that citizens in different African countries are engaging, and through this process, contribute to the broadening and deepening of the OGP in Africa.
12. Participants appreciated AFIC for facilitating OGP knowledge-sharing across the continent through webinars, video conferences, listserves and country support missions. They encouraged that these should be continued.
The Africa Regional Meeting has provided an important opportunity for the region to reflect on progress at country and regional level, mobilise other governments and plan for the future ahead of the London 2013 meeting as well as second generation of country action plans.
At the end of the outreach meeting, civil society again reconvened to take stock of the two days of deliberations and charted a way forward on how to consolidate the outcomes of the outreach meeting.

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