Various commentators have lauded parliamentarians in the National Assembly for passing the long-awaited Access to Information Bill. Institute for Public Policy Research director Graham Hopwood yesterday said the passing of the Bill was a “step forward in the country’s democracy”.
“We respect the fact that it still has to go through the National Council and presumably if that goes smoothly, we would like to see government acting on this quickly by setting up an Office of the Access to Information Commissioner and moving forward towards the appointment of the commissioner,” he said.
“What we don’t want to happen is what happened with the Whistle-Blower Protection Law where we waited now for five years. We are told we have to wait longer because government says it is not in the position financially to do anything,” Hopwood said.
Hopwood said although the Bill is not perfect, it is good enough to start an access to information system whereby citizens will be able to gain formal information in a clearer way than they were able to.
Following a protracted process, National Assembly on Tuesday passed the Access to Information Bill.
However, the Bill still has to be reviewed by the National Council before it is finally inked into law by President Hage Geingob.
“It is long overdue as it will promote President Geingob’s vision of promoting a government that is transparent, accountable and trusted by the Namibian public,” said political analyst Rui Tyitende.
He said information pertaining to public affairs and government dealings should be accessible to members of the public, provided they will use it for productive purposes, not for nefarious ends.
“Namibia is on par with the USA as a beacon of democracy, something that other countries should hope to emulate,” he added.
The Bill aims to promote the public’s free access to information from public entities and further compels both private and public entities to make information available for public utilisation.
“The Bill has passed through various forms and stages of consultations. I’m glad that the National Assembly has finally passed the Bill, demonstrating our commitment to the fundamentals of democracy,” said information minister Peya Mushelenga on Tuesday.
“This law further cements Namibia’s good governance architecture by advancing the ideals of accountability and transparency necessary for a functional democracy. With this law, citizens can make informed decisions by freely accessing information from the government offices, ministries and agencies.” The information ministry will be required to appoint an information commissioner and a deputy information commissioner to promote the right to access to information among the public through awareness campaigns, educational and training programmes.
Furthermore, all public entities are required to assign personnel as information officers to facilitate the provision of information to the public within their entities.