Communication and election financing draft bills in East Africa welcomed
London-based human rights and free speech organisation Article 19 welcomes Kenya’s initiative to foster greater transparency in the financing of election campaigns, and Uganda’s initiative to merge two overlapping communication acts into a single one.
Sunday, 27 May 2012, by HRH London, based on Article 19 press releases.
Article 19 analyses these two legislative acts and offers its remarks and recommendations. The acts are important in implementing more transparent financing of election and referendum campaigns in Kenya and harmonising two existing and overlapping communication laws in Uganda.
Kenya - new bill has to comply with international standards
The Draft Campaign Financing Bill (2011) is currently undergoing a stakeholder review process by the Constitutional Implementation Committee of Kenya. Despite its positive impact on election system, a number of shortcomings in the Draft Bill jeopardise these objectives, and a series of amendments are required before the Draft Bill complies with international standards on freedom of expression and information.
Article 19 emphasises that transparency in campaign financing is indispensible for embedding accountability and integral to the promotion of good governance and democracy. Only with full access to information can the media scrutinise the conduct of election candidates and inform public debate on the dynamics and distribution of political and economic power in Kenya.
According to the organisation’s findings, positive measures in the Draft Bill include the establishment of limits on political campaign expenditures, caps on the amount individuals can donate to candidates, and the imposition of a ban on anonymous donations.
However, Article 19 also finds that various elements of the Draft Bill fall short of international standards on freedom of expression and access to information.
The Draft Bill designates as confidential all campaign financing information submitted to the oversight Committee, with only limited disclosure exceptions for information that is the subject of a complaint or investigation. The selection criteria for the oversight Committee are also left ambiguous, and there are inadequate safeguards to ensure the accountability of this committee to the public.
The organisation urges the Kenyan legislature to revise the Draft Bill and adopt it only after it is brought into compliance with international standards on freedom of expression and information.
The need for greater transparency in all aspects of public life in Kenya further demonstrates the urgent need for a comprehensive access to information framework to be implemented in the country.
Here you can find the full analysis of the Draft Bill, provided by Article 19.
Uganda - one bill instead of two
In March 2012, the Government of Uganda tabled the Communications Regulatory Authority Bill. The Bill principally covers broadcasting, telecommunications and postal services, but takes in cinemas and video libraries as well. Article 19 welcomes the initiative to create a more coherent legal framework governing these sectors.
Moreover, the Bill contains a number of positive features. It places significant emphasis on making communications services widely available at affordable rates, and proposes innovative funding arrangements for the Authority, which will minimise its reliance on funding allocated by Parliament – thus potentially enhancing its independence.
Article 19 also criticises some aspects of the new Authority. The organisation says the Bill is out of step with international standards in many significant ways. Most notably, with the exception of the funding arrangements, it fails to provide any credible safeguards of the Authority’s independence from the Government.
The powers of the Minister responsible for information and communications technology (ICT Minister) over the Authority will include approving its budget, appointing and dismissing members of its Board, and issuing binding guidelines to them. The Minister will even be able to recommend removal of judges on the Communications Tribunal appointed to hear complaints against, amongst others, the Minister.
Article 19 suggests further elaborating the guarantee of the Authority’s independence. In particular, the Authority’s Board and staff should be required at all times to operate in an independent and impartial manner, while external persons and entities should be prohibited from improperly influencing or interfering with the Authority’s work.
The organisation proposes to remove the clause which permits the ICT Minister to issue binding “policy guidelines” to the Authority, and political parties should be ineligible for a broadcasting licence.
Article 19 says the Authority should be bound to comply with international human rights treaties and agreements entered into by Uganda. Consideration should be given to binding it in addition to the standards set out in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.
To sum up, promoting freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas should be central objectives of the Bill and the Authority’s activities, says Article 19.
Here you can find the full analysis of the Communications Regulatory Authority Bill, provided by Article 19.
HRH London, based on Article 19 press releases.