Access to information bill to criminalise data concealment

The access to information bill has been resubmitted to Parliament for the third time, and is being debated.

27 October 2021 | Technology

ESTER KAMATI







WINDHOEK

The existing draft of the access to information bill states that administrative fines are applicable for institutions who fail or refuse to provide information requested by a member of the general public or provide them with non-factual information. It, however, exempts the acquisition of certain information such as that which relates to national security as well as confidential data such as that shared between an individual and a professional such as a lawyer.

“There will be administrative fines given to those who are actually sitting on information or refusing to give that information. It will be an offence if you conceal information or tamper with the information requested or falsify the information, or simply decide to share wrong information without any reason”.

This is according to Asteria Ndjenja, the information officer in the ministry of information, communication and technology, who added that the concealment of information will be an offence liable to conviction or a fine.

“The bill also gives a certain amount of money that one who conceals information or does not give the right information [can be fined]. There will be an offence and there will be a fee to be paid, otherwise you will be imprisoned,” she said.

A fine is also payable if a direct order from an information commissioner is ignored.

Meanwhile, the bill stipulates that information must be made available immediately on request and when not immediately available, should be made available within 21 days.

‘Long overdue’

“The bill, as you know, is long overdue and this tabling is quite important because as a ministry, our conviction remains the same. We’d like the bill to be passed because we see it as an integral part in the mandate that we hold as a ministry of disseminating information,” deputy information minister Emma Theofelus said on Monday.

The rollout of the bill will include an information commissioner being appointed along with a deputy.

Theofelus said the bill has already been drafted and tabled in Parliament, but had been sent back due to pending questions. It has since been resubmitted for the third time four weeks ago with the necessary amendments and is being debated in Parliament.

She said this at a consultation in Windhoek on Monday, the last of regional consultations which began on 16 September in the Erongo Region, which saw all 14 regions engaged for input regarding the bill.

“After deliberations in Parliament, the bill, ordinarily if passed without objection, becomes a law and gets a signature from the president.

“When it becomes law, there will be regulations put in place on how public institutions are to provide information to the public, and processes to be followed,” she said, adding that institutions will be required to come up with an action plan in line with procedures set out in the bill.

Readiness exercise

A readiness exercise will also be conducted, where five institutions will be identified to demonstrate how they would implement the Act in terms of providing information to the public.

“Through this readiness assessment, while we still have time before the bill is passed, we can assist institutions to determine their readiness on how they can give information to the public,” Theofelus said.

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