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Namibia: Access to Information Bill Resubmitted

The Access to Information Bill has been reintroduced in the National Assembly (NA) for discussion, following its initial tabling early last year.

Although the bill was submitted to parliament last year, parliamentarians did not discuss it because of COVID-19 lockdowns restricting parliamentary sessions.

The access to information bill aims to promote the public’s free access to information held by public entities, and to compel public and private entities to proactively and promptly make information available.

The proposed law states that information officers working for public entities can be punished if they provide incorrect, incomplete or misleading information.

Minister of information and communication technology Peya Mushelenga, who resubmitted the bill in the NA last week, reiterated that the draft law is crucial as it seeks to address the important issue of transparency in the government.

He said the draft law will improve the public’s freedom of information and the right to access to information, improving accountability and citizens’ relationship with the government.

He said the proposed law will promote an open and democratic society, and enable the public to have access to information held by government offices, ministries and agencies “ to enable them to make informed decisions in the betterment of their lives”.

“ … the bill proposes to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution under the principles that government information should be available to the public, and that necessary exceptions to the right of access to information should be limited and specific,” he said.

Mushelenga said the bill advocates the proactive disclosure and publication of certain information held by public institutions, understanding that “communication is a fundamental social process that is considered a basic human need and the foundation of all social human beings”.

Under the proposed law, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology will be required to appoint a commission and a deputy commission of information.

Those occupying these positions will be tasked with the responsibility of promoting public awareness of the right to access to information by educating and training the public on how to use the proposed law, and by popularising the act.

Under the draft law, all public entities would be required to designate staff members as information officers who will work hand in hand with the information commissioner to be employed after the bill is passed.

After the bill is passed by parliament, all public entities will be required to submit an implementation plan to the information commissioner within a period of one year after the new law comes into force.

The implementation should comprise an operational plan to apply obligations, and an information publication plan regarding the proactive disclosure of information, including policies and plans.

Originally Published on the Namibian.