Withholding public information from information-seekers by
government and public institutions appears to be the rule
rather than the exception in Eswatini, formerly Swaziland. It
is an open secret that a culture of secrecy still exists within
the government and public institutions. As a result, public
complaints of lack of access to information held by government
and public entities abound. Amnesty International bears
testimony to the culture of secrecy practiced and promoted by
the authorities in Eswatini. In a recent Amnesty International
report titled They Don’t See Us As People: Security of Tenure
and Forced Evictions in Eswatini, it is noted that there is a
general lack of both public access to information and proactive
disclosure of information by the authorities in Eswatini. The
report further highlights the absence of national legislation
promoting access to information.
Unprepared to heed calls for the enactment of the Freedom of
Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, the 10th Parliament
had passed the Public Service Act 2018 before its dissolution
in June 2018. The law denies emaSwati their constitutional
right to access information held by government. Section 8 of
the Act deals with publications, interviews and use of official
information, and bans public officials from releasing public
information to the media without the express permission of
the Secretary to the Cabinet. Subject to the provisions of the
law, a public officer:
(b) whether on duty or on leave of absence shall not
(except with due authority) allow oneself to be interviewed
on questions of or connected with any matter affecting or
relating to public policy, security or strategic economic
interests or resources of Swaziland; and
(c) shall not directly or indirectly reveal, or use for private
purposes, any information coming to the knowledge of
the officer or acquired by the officer or the nature or the
contents of any document communicated to the officer
either in the course of the duties of that officer or in the
capacity of that officer as an officer otherwise than in the
proper discharge of the duties of that officer as authorised
by law or a responsible officer.
Essentially, the Act bars public officers from entertaining
requests for information from the media on behalf of citizens
who need information to make informed decisions and choices.
For years, MISA Swaziland has been at the forefront of a campaign
to press government to embrace a culture of openness. This

saw government making strides in e-governance by launching
a revamped website (which hosts all national ministries) on 19
July 2018. The prime minister described it as a vehicle for the
general public to easily access information and services. He
also noted that the website will make the most informative and
effective services available at the public’s fingertips.
Back in 2007, the Information and Media Development
Directorate drafted the Freedom of Information and Protection
of Privacy Bill 2007. It sought to enable the citizens to access
public information. Not tabled for debate to the 8th Parliament
(2003-2008), it also missed out in the 9th Parliament (20082013) and 10th Parliament (2013-2018). This has thrice
rendered the Bill null and void. The access to information
(ATI) workshops that MISA hosted for legislators, editors,
journalists and civil society actors encouraged the Information
and Media Development Directorate to redraft the legislation,
now called the Freedom of Information and Protection of
Privacy Bill of 2016. Once again, it did not reach Parliament
before its dissolution in June 2018. Notwithstanding the dillydallying, MISA alongside media partners and civil society
actors will continue fighting for the enactment of the Freedom
of Information and Protection of Privacy Bill.

This research set out to assess the ease with which members
of the public can access information held by public institutions.
Its aim was to generate credible evidence-based information
to support the enactment of the Freedom of Information and
Protection of Privacy law in Eswatini. Importantly, its findings will
be used by MISA Swaziland and freedom of expression activists in
the on-going ATI campaign targeting the incoming Members of
Parliament (MPs) in the 11th Parliament (2018-2023). This research
was conducted on four ministries and four public institutions/
enterprises in Eswatini between July and August 2018.
The following public institutions were surveyed:
1. Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC)
2. Ministry of Agriculture (MoA)
3. Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy (MNRE)
4. Ministry of Public Service (MPS)
5. Ministry of Tinkhundla Administration and Development
6. Municipal Council of Mbabane (MCM)
7. National Maize Corporation (NMC)
8. Public Service Pensions Fund (PSPF)


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