By Frank Kanyesigye
The Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) has expressed optimism about the newly promulgated Access to Information Law as a stepping stone towards shaping the media environment in Rwanda.
The Information Law, signed this month, after years of deliberations and consultations within Parliament and media fraternity is already in application and has been published in the National Gazette.
The Law guarantees reporters to access data held by the state; previously it was a challenge for journalists to get the information they want due to unnecessary protocol in the public bodies.
Notable among its objectives is the promotion of open government through disclosure of information and facilitate the right of all persons to have access to information held by public authorities.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times on Thursday, Alphonse Nkusi, the senior media development specialist at RGB said that Media is a tool for development and any country to move forward in good governance system, the public should be well informed.
“Media development as part of our mission, we are in position to advocate for the new Law, link it up with the local authorities and journalists, so they develop a close relationship that will facilitate the flow of information to the citizens,” he said.
Nkusi added: “The media is very key when it comes to public bodies being accountable to the people. As long as we have informed citizens, our country will move forward to be a knowledge based society.”
He noted that the “Access to information Law” means that Rwandans should be informed of what is taking place in the country.
The core principle of Access to Information Law is stipulated in the article three, where every person has the right of Access to information in possession of a public organ and some private bodies.
The Law also requires public authorities to proactively publish and disseminate information to the public in a useful form and manner to further the public interest generally in democracy and development processes and to promote greater accountability of public authorities and private bodies.
“We are planning to go out to the grass root levels to enable the local leaders understand what the Access to Information Law requires of them, and tell them to change their mindset,” said Nkusi.
“The government officials should change their attitude of being the custodians of the government’s information, now it’s in interest of the public to access that information.”
However RGB’s senior media development specialist stated that any information that in any way that can endanger the country’s security or judicial procedures will not be released.
Article four of the Access to Information explains that information withheld by a public or private organ to which the Law applies shall not be published among others, when it may destabilize national security, impede the enforcement of Law or justice, and violate the legitimate protection of trade secrets and other intellectual property rights protected by the Law, involve the interference in the privacy of an individual when its not for public interest.
Nkusi urged Journalists to know how to regulate themselves when releasing information to the public.
Within the Law there is provision for a ministerial order which will clearly indicate how long somebody can delay to give out the information. “We are advocating for better working conditions of journalists.”
He said” We are doing advocacy in the private bodies, our partners and the central government to develop a close relationship with the media fraternity.” Adding that, “If you feel you have not been served correctly as a journalist, you can complain.”
Emmanuel Mugisha, the Acting Executive Secretary of the Media High Council, said that, since the Law is already in place journalists can utilize it if they are not accessing information that is vital to the public.
“However we putting in place information sharing system where by public and private institutions will be publishing information that can be accessed by journalists in a reliable manner”
“We are looking for information technology experts to develop it for us; it will be a web based facility, where journalists will access information that is relevant to the public, the one that is factual, clear and relevant to the public.”
Nevertheless Theodore Ntarindwa, the President of the Forum for Private Newspapers said that unless the public and private officials are well conversant with Law, they will continue being the custodians of information that is of interest to the public.
“I am not contented with the Law because it is not clear regarding the ministerial order to authorize public to give out information to journalists. We shall know its effectiveness once it’s implemented, we are scared the ministerial order will delay the information we want,” he noted.
Article seven stipulates that every public and private organ to which this Law applies shall proactively disclose the vital information to the public, the ministerial order shall determine in details the information to be disclosed.
However Chris Nsanzimana, a journalist with Rwanda Focus, said “since the Law is very clear, it will make public and private bodies improve their relationship with the media practitioners.
He added: “The officials don’t know the Law that is why they hide the information.”
“Having the Law in place will foster the flow information as it guarantees people the right to opinion, information despite being journalists or not.”