Information is the Power Citizens Need Ahead of the Polls

Information is fundamental in enabling informed decisions. As the popular saying goes, knowledge is power. Where information is not freely accessible, breach of ethics and unprofessionalism thrives, and basic rights might also not be realised. People can hide corrupt acts behind a veil of secrecy. Access to information allows for transparency, accountability and openness to thrive even as the country heads towards the August 9th general elections.

When our right to know is denied, we can’t hold decision-makers or institutions accountable for their actions. In the absence of information, citizens might not be able to fully realize their civic rights and duties.

We must agree that access to information ensures that individuals have the right and essential material needed to solve problems and make better decisions. It plays a significant role in enabling citizens to exercise their civic duty of closely following what happens within the government and through their representatives and appointees vetted and approved by their representatives. Is enough being done to ensure that public institutions avail information to Wanjiku?

The Access to Information (ATI) Act which was enacted on September 21, 2016 guarantees every Kenyan the right to seek access and obtain information from public bodies and private bodies acting in a public nature. However, the full realization of this Act is yet to be achieved owing to the fact that the country lacks regulations. These regulations would give clarity on issues to do with request processes, formats to provide information and remedies in the event there is non-compliance by government institutions. Will this prove to be a hindrance or easy scapegoat for institutions that may choose not to disclose information that is crucial during this electioneering period?

If citizens are to make informed choices at the ballot, don’t they reserve the right to know all decisions that were made on their behalf by either elective or appointive offices? Take for example, development projects that have been surrounded by controversy, the citizen has the right to know how they came to be, who approved them, who benefitted from them and whether public resources were mismanaged. A project of the SGR’s magnitude is one that should’ve been public information but to this date, Kenyans do not know what is contained in that contract.

The worry that money earned through illegal means could be at play during the elections is a valid one. Numerous scandals that have caused loss of public funds have been those whose details remain undisclosed. The Medical Equipment System (MES), the dam projects and Covid-19 funds all had an element of opaqueness in the tendering and contracting phases that led to taxpayers losing yet again billions of shillings. Lack of this information denies Kenyans the chance to make informed choices at the ballot and presents the risk of them unknowingly re-electing corrupt individuals.

That aside, the mistrust that surrounds Kenya’s elections will not be solved if institutions such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) are not transparent in their operations. For the electoral commission, particularly, it is of interest to Kenyans to know what firms they contract in different areas such as ballot printing, biometric systems etc. Public participation, where required as per the Constitution, should be carried out effectively. To do so, IEBC must ensure that all information is published for the public to not only be aware but to give substantive input that protects the sanctity of the electoral process.

With regards to the ORPP, the issue registration of persons to political parties without their knowledge is becoming common place despite the office guaranteeing to solve it in June last year. Kenyans have the right to join a party that aligns with their values and not one that is forced on them by sneaky individuals.

The conversation of a fair, transparent, verifiable election can be held without ensuring that Kenyans have access to all the public information they may need.

Posted by Loise Mwakamba on March 16, 2022

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