Calls for transparency with new information bill

02 December 2021 | Local News

ESTER KAMATI



WINDHOEK

The Parliamentary Standing Committee for Information, Communication and Technology this week had its first public meeting to discuss the Access to Information (ATI) Bill, which had been referred to the committee on 19 October by the National Assembly.

Committee chairperson Amutse Modestus said the committee asked for an extension to February 2022 to engage the public.

“This is because we still have activities to do on the Bill including public hearings.”

Access to Information in Namibia coalition chairperson Frederiko Links made submissions including limitations on the government proceedings exemption, referring to Section 2 of the Bill, which excludes mandatory distribution of information relating to the seating of Cabinet.

“We don’t feel it’s justified to have an indefinite exemption of certain information,” he said, suggesting that a 10-year exemption is ideal as “an administration is basically in office for two terms and beyond those 10 years, there is no need to have documents remain a secret concerning decisions made at Cabinet level”.

“It gives enough time for whatever might have been of national security or highly confidential nature to have resolved in the period,” he said.

He called for Cabinet decisions and deliberations along with background documents to be made public upon request.

“Limiting Cabinet exemptions aligns with the national norms and African Union model.”

Corruption and wrong-doing

Links added that this limitation would also aid in discovering corruption, wrong-doing and potential harm. He argued that indefinite Cabinet decisions made secretly do not hold administration accountable.

“We encourage that if there is another law that better defines certain issues around national security and so forth, then that law takes precedence.”

He said based on the sensitivity of the information, the Information Commissioner would be able to dispute whether it should be disclosed, however, individuals “should be able to request this information”.

Public process

Links suggested that the media ombudsman be a member of the standing committee in the recruitment process. “This will provide a better government-civil society balance in our estimation.” He also advocated that the Information Commissioner’s appointment be made public.

“Shortlisted candidates must have public interviews. This would be more consistent with the Bill’s purpose and is similar to other current interview processes.

“This is something that we would encourage for all executives, not just under this specific Bill but for all the executive and decision-making appointments across various sectorial areas.”

He further challenged the secrecy of judicial functions, referring to the current draft which states that information relating to the nomination, election and appointment of judicial officers be exempt from coverage. He made reference to public interviews for the appointment of the Ombudsman, stating that the Bill should incorporate this.

“We don’t know why this should be a secret. Our recommendation is that judicial officer declarations be made exempt. We would like to encourage that this actually be reflected in the ATI Bill.”

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