Parliament has passed the Access to Information bill into law, which was gazetted on 28 December 2022. Namibia joins 25 African countries with access to information laws.
However, out of 25 countries with ATI laws, only three have successfully implemented the laws (Seychelles, Ghana and South Africa). The question is, are we going to be part of the three successful countries or we are joining the list of struggling countries?
As modern society becomes increasingly dependent on technology and digital communication, access to information has become a fundamental right. It is the cornerstone of a transparent, accountable, and open government. However, this right will remain unrealised unless effective access to information legislation is in place and implementation is carried out effectively.
Access to information legislation refers to the set of rules, regulations, and laws that ensure public access to government information. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognised access to information as a fundamental human right in 1966. Since then, many countries have adopted their own access to information legislation. These laws typically designate the timeframes for producing information, specify the type of information that is exempt from disclosure, describe the appeals process, and stipulate penalties for noncompliance.
The implementation of these laws, however, is another matter. Simply enacting access to information legislation does not guarantee that citizens can indeed access the information they are entitled to.
Governments need to create open, transparent, and efficient systems to ensure that the legislation is implemented in practice. Too often, the implementation of access to information legislation is plagued by bureaucratic hurdles, delays, and exemptions that render the laws ineffective.
Experience has proven that the implementation of access to information legislation is not an easy task; it requires a significant amount of political will, technical capacity and funds to develop and maintain the necessary structures that allow users to access information promptly and without loopholes.
Unfortunately, many governments lack the capacity to implement these laws effectively. A lack of resources, such as human resources and technology, can hinder their implementation, as well as a lack of a culture of openness and transparency.
Another challenge is the lack of awareness among the general public regarding access to information laws. Many people do not know that they have the right to obtain information about the actions of their government. This lack of awareness can hinder the effectiveness of access to information laws.
In preparation for the smooth implementation of this law in Namibia, the Government through the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has started preparing government communications officers through training in various fields (social media, public speaking, ATI, media literacy and cyber security).
The Namibian Access to Information law requires an establishment of an independent Information Commission which will help in the enforcement of the ATI legislation and hold organisations accountable. However, the question remains, are we ready for the implementation of the access to information legislation?
The implementation of access to information legislation requires a multi-stakeholder approach. Government agencies, civil society organisations, media, academics, and technical experts must collaborate to ensure the effectiveness of the legal frameworks. Capacity building, training, and technical support can ensure that the relevant actors understand their rights and responsibilities under the legislation. Advocacy and awareness-raising activities are also necessary to ensure that the public understands their right to access information and that governments are held accountable.
To ensure a successful implementation of access to information laws, several steps need to be taken. First, there should be a clear understanding of why access to information laws are necessary and how they can help to promote democracy.
Second, there must be a willingness on the part of the government to share information and to change the status quo and culture. Third, there should be mechanisms in place to ensure that the government is held accountable for its actions. Fourth, there should be awareness-raising campaigns to inform the public about the importance of access to information laws.
The implementation of access to information laws is a necessary step toward promoting transparency, accountability, democracy, and good governance. While there are challenges in implementing such laws, they can be overcome with commitment and resources. It is time for governments to recognize the importance of access to information laws and to take the necessary steps to implement them.
*Givean Samulandela is an information officer in the MICT.