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Theofelus: Relevant information improves lives

2021-10-18  John Muyamba

Theofelus: Relevant information improves lives

RUNDU – Information deputy minister Emma Theofelus says information can be used as a public good or enemy, and that it only becomes valuable when it is given and received to improve lives and decisions citizens make.

The deputy minister made the remarks during a consultative meeting in Rundu last Wednesday, where the ministry engaged various stakeholders on the Access to Information Bill, which is currently being debated in parliament after it was tabled recently by information minister Peya Mushelenga.

“The bill also makes provision for an information commissioner and team, who will be able to monitor when information is being made available to citizens and also hold public servants accountable when they fail to provide information to the citizens – and this is quite important because, as we all know, information can be used as a public good or enemy,’’ she said.

‘’So, where we use information determines how it impacts our lives; information becomes valuable only if when we receive it, we use it to improve our lives and the decisions that we make – and that is why this agency or this commission that will be headed by the information commissioner and the deputy information commissioner will become very important in ensuring that information is not only communicated but communicated well and hopefully used for the benefit of our citizens,” she noted.

The deputy minister indicated that the bill, among others, would provide an environment where public institutions can communicate information to the public efficiently and effectively –and perhaps even in the language that citizens can understand.

“As a ministry, we are very fortunate to have this opportunity, as the bill is being debated in parliament to engage the community members,’’ she said.

The deputy minister told stakeholders that a few years back, the ministry visited the region to discuss the possibility of bringing up a bill to allow access to information. 

“And now, we come back to you for the second time to say we have drafted the bill – and it’s in parliament, set to be debated and hopefully passed so that information can easily streamline into public institutions for the benefits of the citizens of this country,’’ she said.

During the consultation, Theofelus gave some experience from the regions they consulted before coming to Kavango East.

“We met people who said, ‘I have a child; the mother or father doesn’t support the child and I went to the maintenance court. I didn’t get proper information; how can I get my child to be supported by the other parent? Will this bill be able to solve that problem?’ And our response was ‘yes’,” she said.

“And you get another person saying, ‘I think I’m 60 years old; I’m not so sure. I don’t have the right documentation; I don’t have a pension grant – that’s why I cannot support myself and my family; where do I go, and how do I get information so that I can also start getting a pensioners grant like other people who turned 60? Will this bill assist with that?’ Our response was ‘yes’,” she said.

“Another person speaks about, ‘There’s this thing called Harambee food, aka drought relief food; I believe my family and I qualify because we are struggling – and that is the provision under the ministry of gender and poverty eradication. I do not know the procedure to get registered so that I get the food that I see the other people in the community are getting. Will this bill solve that?’ And the ministry’s response was ‘yes’, saying that is what this bill aims to do,” she said.

The bill aims to give people the information they need to get the assistance they need because sometimes, it can be a life and death issue.

The deputy minister further stated that the bill will mean public servants and those in public institutions will be held accountable if they fail in their duty to provide citizens with the required information from their ministries or institutions. 

Currently, there is no way that government officials can be held accountable when they do not provide information to the public, as there is no law; that is why the bill is needed to make access to information law.

2021-10-18  John Muyamba

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