Prospects Brighten for ATI Legislation in Namibia

27 August 2012

Namibian government officials are giving favorable signals about access to information legislation and civil society is organizing to push for it, according to recent reports and information provided to FreedomInfo.org.

At a recent two-day conference the Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Joel Kaapanda, addressed ATI in a speech read on his behalf by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana, according to an article in New Era. The minister specifically called “untrue” perceptions that the government is dragging its feet.

“Access to information goes hand in hand with some major administrative arrangements, which must facilitate legislated access. Having an Act on Access to Information is not enough to ensure public access to information,” according to Kaapanda’s speech. Efforts are under way to institute “proper filing and retrieval systems,” according to the minister, who said, “This project is at an advanced stage, and several government-owned institutions are already using the system to ensure better information and management retrieval.”

The article said further:

Other administrative arrangements on the legislation on access to information also involves decisions on where the body that will oversee access to information will be accommodated, what its structure should look like as well as the financial implications.

The Minister stressed that “as a responsible government, we decided not to reinvent the wheel, but rather to learn from best practices, and to approach access to information in a systematic and methodical manner.” The participants and invited foreign guests were further told that the groundwork has already been laid as far as legislation on access to information is concerned.

“However, until such a time that the Namibian Government is convinced that the accompanying administrative processes are in place, it will not just jump into legislating access to information, just for the sake of having the legislation on its books,” charged the Minister.

The Institute for Public Policy Research in August issued a report on access to information and Namibia. It describes various limitations in the current environment, including the lack of legislation, and makes a series of recommendations.

Activist Hopeful

An activist corresponding with FreedomInfo.org expressed hope for the legislation, but added, that commitments to enact ATI legislation have been made since 1998.

The observer commented further, “The lack of legislation to date has been less to do with a lack of willingness on the part of Government, but more because of a lack of engagement on the part of civil society, the media, private sector, general public etc. with the issue. It would appear, however, that tide is changing in this regard.”

The Aug. 21-22 conference was the kick-off  for a planned 18-month campaign by the Access to Information (ACTION) Namibia coalition designed to bring together many sectors.

The observer further explained: “The Law Reform and Development Commission have indicated their intention to begin the drafting process, so we’re hopeful that it shouldn’t be too long before Namibia has an Access to Information law on the books.”

ACTION Namibia  in a press release described the conference which was officially opened by Advocate Pansy Tlakula, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). “Delegates in attendance at the conference ranged from prominent ATI advocates from across Africa, to champions of the cause within Namibia. Various sectors of the Namibian society were in attendance, including ordinary people representing the common population whose lives ATI legislation will impact greatly – most notably being Kalkrand resident James Hansen, who walked from Kalkrand to Windhoek to register corruption at the village council.”

A  training workshop for senior journalists “ended with recommendations being made with regards to the strategies that could be adopted in the drafting process of the legislation, and with regards to the advocacy strategies that would be adopted to ensure the enactment of ATI legislation in Namibia in the most timely manner.”

The released continued:

Recommendations included involving the Namibian Government at an early stage in the process, and identifying and using influential parliamentarians to push the campaign agenda; keeping the publicity and lobbying momentum constant so as to maintain pressure on the need for such a legislation; identifying key issues to be reflected in the proposed bill and ensuring civil societies buy-in; and, utilising various modes of the media to disseminate the message.

During the eight (8) sessions of the ACTION Namibia conference, a number of crosscutting issues were identified. These issues, if properly addressed, would provide the opportunity needed to capitalise on the campaign, and include:

–          Outlining in a memorandum the advantages of ATI for all sectors, including government.

–           Using an ‘Africa-wide’ coalition and other African and International assistance from countries where progressive ATI legislation is in place;

–          Establishing a ‘core’ coalition within the country that would drive and finance the process;

–           Allaying Policy Maker’s fears of ATI legislation, and

–           Using ‘champions’, like influential lawmakers and parliamentarians that include high-level public servants, to popularize the ATI legislation.

 The full report of the ACTION Namibia conference will be available on September 15th and will be ready for download at www.actionnamiba.org.  ACTION Coalition Secretariat E-mail: info@actionnamibia.org

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