Access to info bill in legal vetting

20 February 2020 | Government

A legal opinion is being sought regarding the much-awaited Access to Information (ATI) Bill before it is presented in Parliament for further vetting and possible approval.

While legal advice is being sought on the implications of the bill, the information ministry is still optimistic that it will be passed in the current session of Parliament, which comes to an end on 20 March, spokesperson Herman Kangootui said.

Once implemented, the bill is envisaged to give citizens greater access to information.

“The ATI Bill is currently in the final stage of legal drafting and will be sent to the Attorney General for certification before it is tabled in Parliament. The ministry's desire is to table the bill before the current and final session of the sixth Parliament comes to an end,” Kangootui said.

During the 2019 State of Nation Address, President Hage Geingob recognised the importance of access to information as a “critical component of the electorate's ability to hold elected leaders to account”.

The promise of an ATI law has been proffered since 2016 by various high-ranking government officials, with no results.

While lawmakers and the information ministry have been pushing hard this year to ready the bill for tabling, it seems unlikely that will be possible before the National Assembly is dissolved for next month's elections.

The Protection of Information Act of 1982 stipulates that a government official may not give any information to a journalist. This stipulation is contradictory to the ATI legislation that government is currently discussing and is a good example of a law that inhibits access to information, which may in turn inhibit freedom of expression.

The Protection of Information Act of 1982 also seeks to prevent information in the public domain, which is considered secret by the State, from becoming public knowledge. In fact, this act was used against The Patriot newspaper in a lawsuit brought against it by the Namibian Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) in 2018 in an attempt to stop the paper from publishing a story on properties purchased by the NCIS for recreational purposes, which, in some instances, were registered in the names of individuals, as well as on a slush fund government was donating money to for the benefit of State officials.

OGONE TLHAGE

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