Access to Information Law in the making

 ATIThe who’s who of Namibian media – together with a contingent of civil society and human rights organisations and senior government figures – yesterday thronged a consultative platform at which frank input is being sought towards the drafting of the much-awaited access to information law.

The envisaged far-reaching piece of legislation would, with good input, forever change the face of transparency in Namibia, a development that ties in well with President Hage Geingob’s call for greater openness in the dealings of government and its institutions.

Stakeholders are skating on thin ice, having to ensure they midwife a law that would make Namibia a more transparent nation, while carefully navigating how to ensure that the law, when gazetted, would not be used for ill purposes.

Perhaps the greater source of hope and inspiration is that government – which sometimes is a victim of misplaced perceptions that it has mastered the art of keeping information close to its chest – is at the forefront of this initiative.

The cherry on the cake is the consultative nature of the exercise because even some of the harshest critics of the manner government handle information dissemination are party to the ongoing brainstorming meetings.

There is general consensus – amongst both friends and foe – that the new law should not mirror others adopted elsewhere in Africa, where governments continue to maintain a clenched fist on vital information, despite the existence of this law in their countries.

Simply put, adopting an access to information law in Namibia should not serve as government’s PR exercise to improve international perceptions of a transparent institution, while the situation on the ground is in sharp contrast to such perceptions.

It was cited as an example that Zimbabwe too has an access to information law, but journalists in that country continue to be at the receiving end of imprisonment and the threat of imprisonment when posing tough questions regarding the government’s dealings.

Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology Stanley Simataa, yesterday reaffirmed government’s genuine commitment to seeing this law becoming a reality soon.

“Our country should be exemplary in leading the global crusade for an informed citizenry, a citizenry which should enjoy access to information,” he told those in attendance.

“We should, therefore, strive to formulate a legal framework that will preserve the desired national peace and security while providing agility and legally enforceable parameters for those seeking to assert their right to access information, to do so.”

Simataa – hammering home the message of patriotism which is often seen as a rare commodity among many Namibians – urged contributors to be mindful of the need for a secure and peaceful country, when making an input.

A number of participants believe they will navigate their way around the issue of national security to still emerge out of this process with an impregnable law that will forever change the face of the country in as far as the dissemination of information is concerned.

Original Report from NEW Era:

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