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Legal Update – 5 September 2016

Access to Information Bill to be tabled in parliament

  • Intends to enhance access to information by citizens from public and private bodies
  • Will make public bodies more accountable and responsive
  • ‘Habit’ of not responding to letters and requests by public bodies to decline as Bill proposes that body must respond in 30 days
  • Private bodies are defined as those that utilize public funds or are in possession of information which is of significant public interest
  • May affect some private bodies and corporates

With the view of enhancing access to information and promoting transparency and accountability of public authorities and private bodies in possession of information which is of significant public interest, the coming session of Parliament this week is to table the Access to Information Bill amongst other Bills.

The Bill is intended for Mainland Tanzania only and will apply to public authorities and private bodies registered under any written law which utilize public funds or are in possession of information which is significant to the public.The right of access to information can be exercised by way of a written request (orally only if the applicant is illiterate or has disability) addressed to the information holder and the information holder is duty bound to respond to the request for access to information within 30 days.

The information holder is also required to transfer the request within seven days if the information requested is held by another information holder and should notify the applicant of such transfers. Fees may be charged by the information holders for the applications to access information. In case of refusal of access to information requested, the refusal must be in writing accompanied by reasons for such refusal.

The Bill provides that the right of access to information is restricted to persons who are citizens of the United Republic of Tanzania. Although this may be criticised, overall the Bill is a positive step towards transparency and efficiency.

Not all information can be requested and the Bill sets the category of exempt information whereas the holder of information will be exonerated from the duty to provide information if she/he is of the opinion that the information may undermine national security, impede due process of law, endanger safety, undermine lawful investigation, infringe commercial interests, facilitate commission of an offence, and the like.

The Bill also imposes a duty to information holders to appoint information officers, and a duty to publish within 60 days from the commencement of the Act information relating to structure, functions, statutory officers and advisory committees, and a general description of categories of information held by that particular information holder.

The applicant who has been given access to information has a duty not to distort such information and contravention of this duty amounts to an offence.

The Bill requires information holders to maintain and keep record of information for a period of not less than 30 years from the date on which such information was recorded.

Any person aggrieved by the decision of the information holder may apply to the Head of the Institution for review and the decision of the Head of the Institution is appealable to the Minister responsible for legal affairs whose decision is final.

Other Bills that are to be presented this session include the Valuation and Valuers Registration Bill 2016, the Government Chemist Laboratory Authority Bill 2016, the Chemist Professionals Bill 2016, the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute Bill 2016 and the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute Bill 2016.