Discussions Held in Botswana on Draft FOI Legislation

28 April 2011

Advocates are organizing in support of a proposed freedom of information law for Botswana, according to media reports.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa – Botswana held a stakeholders discussion on the bill April 21 in Gaborone and a task force on the bill has been organized, according to a report in the Botswana Gazette.

The hope is that a FOI bill will be discussed in the National Assembly during its July sitting. The government last year gave permission for a private bill to be offered by Dumelang Saleshando, Botswana Congress Party President and Member of Parliament for Gaborone Central. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Under consideration is a bill drafted by the Attorney General that activists said should be improved, according to Sello Motseta, writing for the Gazette.

A task force was selected to fine-tune the bill. Members are: Botswana Secondary School Teachers Union (BOSETU) Executive Secretary Justin Hunyepa, the former MISA- Botswana National Director Thapelo Ndlovu, University of Botswana lecturer Dr. Peter Sebina, gender activist Maungo Mooki and freelance journalist Palesa Bautlwane. MISA-Botswana is the secretariat for the task group.

The paper reported:

Saleshando maintained that greater stakeholder involvement was critical before the law is presented to the National Assembly, because the law needs to reflect the mores of the country.“We need to get greater public participation before the law comes before Parliament so that ordinary citizens know what to expect. It is also for us to focus on specific clauses to see if they conform to international best practice and the Botswana environment,” said Saleshando.

Discussing the proposal, Saleshando said, “A couple of things have emerged. For example, to what extent do you make a law applicable to private entities; also why shouldn’t you include political parties, all of whom in principle uphold the principle of transparency because they run on funding from the public.”

The paper also reported:

Discussants observed that state agencies are increasingly withdrawing from economic and public service functions in favour of partnerships with the private sector, and so private entities also need to be covered. It was observed that in some developing countries some bureaucrats are unmoved by the introduction of freedom of information legislation, arguing that such laws apply retrospectively.

There was therefore a strong need to make the law retroactive to cover situations prior to the commencement of such an Act. It was also revealed that it is international best practice to require full disclosure of information without overzealous bureaucrats demanding to know why the particular information was being sought, or what the person seeking information wished to do with it. 

Separately, support for a bill was voiced by Vice Chairperson of the Press Council and editor of the new weekly Weekend Post, Aubrey Lute, according to a report in Mmegionline.

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