By Risco Lumamezi
The long-awaited Access to Information (ATI) Bill introduced in parliament by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology Minister Dr. Peya Mushelenga, is under scrutiny in Zambezi Region.
This came on the spotlight on Friday, during awareness exercise on the Bill conducted by the Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Ms. Emma Theofelus who was accompanied by Ms. Yang Wang of UNESCO Windhoek Office, Mr. Hamlet Luboni, a Lawyer from Law Reform and Development Commission and Ms. Anna Amoomo, Internet Society of Namibia (ISOC).
The Bill is seeking for the establishment of an Information Commission which will be administered by the Information Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners, who will adjudicate matters concerning access to information.
Some of the residents of the Zambezi region who attended the discussion of the Bill, welcomed the Bill as a positive initiative for the general public, and they opinionated that the Bill does not give any reference of journalists to the definition but it only gives a general name of an Information Requester.
The Bill once it becomes a law in Namibia, as stated in its preamble it will “provide for the appointment of an independent and impartial Information Commissioner and Deputy Information Commissioners; to provide for the obligations of public entities, to provide for the right of access to information held by public and private entities; to provide for the promotion, creation, keeping , organisation and management of information in a form and manner that facilitates transparency , accountability, good governance and access to information; to provide for requests for access to information; to provide for internal review, appeal and judicial review of decisions on access to information; to provide for information exempt from disclosure; and to provide for incidental matters”.
Speaking at the discussion, MICT Deputy Minister Theofelus pointed out that the Bill is seeking to appoint an Information Commissioner and deputies who will adjudicate matters surrounding the citizens access to information.
“MICT as the custodian of Government information is to find the mechanism to ensure that the information is available to the citizens”
She said her ministry has a mandate to communication, “our role as government institution of the State is only to have information readily available to you”
She however encouraged the residents of Zambezi region to make their informed decisions against the scourge of the deadly coronavirus, according to recent statistics about 5 % of the people are fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine in Zambezi alone.
Ms. Yang Wang, of UNESCO Office in Windhoek alluded that UNESCO will recruit consultant to develop a methodology and to draft a recommendation report on how ready the public will implement the Bill, and the importance of the public to be aware of the Bill.
The participants at the gathering expressed more clarity on section 35 and 39 of the Bill which deals on the requests for access to information and extension of time to respond to request for access to information, which they said that the long duration in obtaining information from information officers mighty cause some setbacks within the public entities.
Section 35 makes provision that the requester who wishes to obtain information should do it in orally or writing but strongly emphasises in writing to the Information Officer, which they said the duration is not immediate to journalists who needs immediate information and this would delay them in meeting their deadlines.
Section 39 of the Bill makes provision to Information Officers to extend the period when considering requests of access to information within 14 days or 21 days and longer.
However, Ms. Theofelus responded that journalists will work normally the way they used to source out information, but this would range within 48 hours.
According to Ms. Asteria Ndjendja, Information Officer in the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology who presented the Bill stressed in concluding that “The basic objective of the access to information Bill is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the work of the government.
To Contain Corruption and make our democracy work for the people in real sense it goes without saying that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed.
Therefore, tabling the ATI Bill in Parliament is a step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the government and encourage them participate in public affairs and decision-making process to better their livelihood.”
Residents of Zambezi Region who wish to make their inputs or informed decisions to the Bill can do so not later than 25 October 2021.They can forward their comments and questions to Mr. Nicholas Chaka, Senior Information Officer at the Regional Office of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology in Katima Mulilo by hand, or via e-mail to Nicholas.Chaka@mict.gov.na or 0811623900.