This is the ninth MISA Transparency Assessment which analyses
the ease or difficulty with which the public can access relevant
information held by government and public institutions. The
study assesses whether institutions make information proactively
available via an online presence and provide helpful information
upon request.
In 2017, research was carried out by eight MISA Chapters
in partnership with local researches, in Botswana, Malawi,
Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and
Several of the researchers experienced frustration in requesting
information; they had to provide reasons for their requests
and some researchers’ were questioned as to their motives of
seeking information for personal use.
Additionally, public institution personnel designated to handle
information requests often lack the authority to share information
without permission from a higher office. This unnecessarily
complicates and delays the information-seeking process. These
observations are worrisome given the impact the free flow of
public information can have on individuals, communities and
society at large.
Governments are normally responsible for public service delivery
in areas such as education, health care, housing, sanitation and
water. The availability and public accessibility of information
on these services (for example, which services one is entitled
to and how to receive them), is vital to enable citizens to access
the services their governments provide—of which numerous can
be life changing and life saving. Free access to public services
can help level inequalities, decrease poverty and increase public
health—examples that highlight how vital public information is
for a country’s development.
The establishment of a legal framework conducive to freedom
of information, including laws guaranteeing and facilitating
access to public information, should form the cornerstone of a
country’s efforts in creating an open and transparent society,
ensuring meaningful public participation in the decision-making
processes, transparent governance and accountability, and most
importantly, strengthening people’s trust in their governments.
With the adoption of access to information (ATI) legislation in
Tanzania and Malawi in 2016, six countries in southern Africa
now have a law guaranteeing their citizens a right to information.
At the time of the launch of the MISA Transparency Assessment
in September 2014, only three countries in the region had access
to information laws.
This positive trend in the adoption of ATI legislation needs to
be accompanied by its effective implementation. The laws in
Malawi and Tanzania have not yet been operationalised and
Mozambique’s law, which was passed in December 2014, has not
yet been fully implemented.
Political and institutional will are essential to ensuring public
access to government-held information, both prior and post
adoption of a stand-alone ATI law. Zimbabwe has enacted the


Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in
2002; 15 years later some public officials still abuse the legislation
to frustrate public requests for information.
A law on paper can be a crucial positive development in a country
but, in itself, is not a guarantee for government openness. This is
exemplified by the fact that among all the institutions assessed
by the eight MISA Chapters, the only institution which did not
receive a single point, because of the inexistence of a website
and the refusal to respond to the information request, was the
Transport, Multiplex and Transmission Enterprise in Mozambique.
The institution with the highest score (a total of 35 out of 40
points), the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia
(CRAN), is based in a country which has yet to adopt its draft
Access to Information Bill.
As has been the case in previous years, the use of information
and communication technologies (ICTs) to make information
available is increasing, both in quality and quantity. Malawi in
particular saw great improvements in the online presence of
public bodies in the past year. Researchers in Malawi also had a
more positive experience with regard to responses to information
requests—seven out of nine institutions provided the requested
information; four did so within 24 hours of receiving the request.
In contrast, all other participating countries had a response rate
of 50 percent or less; in Zambia only one out of eight institutions
replied to the request of information. Yet some public bodies that
responded did so in an exceptionally helpful and swift manner,
respecting citizens’ right to access to public information.

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