Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) parliamentarian Celeste Becker said that people with criminal records of any nature should not be allowed to serve in the envisaged Information Commissioner Office (ICO). Becker made the remarks when contributing to the Access to Information Bill tabled recently by information minister Peya Mushelenga in the National Assembly.
“People with criminal records of any nature must not be given the chance to serve the public in such important public offices such as the one we wish to establish here. It is a major flaw in our constitution and we as legislators must proactively make sure that this is fixed,” Becker told lawmakers.
“This is exactly the reason why we have many public representatives with criminal records and questionable integrity in public office.”
The Bill’s objectives, among others, include the empowerment and education of the public so as to understand their right to access information, understand the functions and operations of public bodies, and effectively scrutinise and participate in the decision-making of public bodies that affect their rights. Mushelenga said the oversight mechanism would comprise an information commissioner and deputy commissioner to be appointed by President Hage Geingob with the approval of parliament for the purposes of the promotion, monitoring and protection of the right of access to information.
However, Becker said the most concerning part of the Bill is that in case of a vacancy under Section 15, the President is given an explicit right to appoint a commissioner without the approval of parliament.
“Can the minister please clarify why the ordinary process of appointing commissioners as outlined in Section 5 has to go through the selection committee and the National Assembly, but not in the instance of vacancy at Section 15?” she questioned.
“Is this not a deliberate innuendo to capture the process by the Presidency and the deeper powers of state? We submit that it is,” she added.
She said the information commissioner must strictly be appointed as envisioned in Section 5 of the Bill, even in the instance of a vacancy.
Besides, she said, in Section 17 (1) of the Bill there is a deliberate attempt to capture the office. “At that particular provision, it is stated that ‘In the performance of his or her functions under this Act, the information commissioner is assisted by the staff members from the Public Service made available for that purpose on assignment or secondment, as the Prime Minister, on the recommendation of the Public Service Commission, may direct by notice in the gazette’,” she said.
This, she said, is a recipe for disaster and will lead to the inevitable capture of the office.
“There must be clear-cut guidelines as to how the staff in the office will be appointed, and this bill does not outline that process clearly,” Becker added.
She said the implementation of the bill is vague and there are no powers and functions outlined for the information officers as outlined in sections 22 and 23 of the bill.
“The appointed information officers at public and private entities are then left to wonder exactly what their functions and duties are. Section 22 (2) is also very problematic,” she said.