SWAZILAND INTRODUCTION Understanding that access to information (ATI) and economic development are inter-twined, the Swaziland government has put in place three legal instruments that promote the free-flow of information. Adopted in 2005, the Constitution provides for freedom of expression, the press and other media. The Information and Media Policy of 2005 also requires the media to eradicate information poverty through the provision of information. Meanwhile, the National Development Strategy (NDS) of 1999, popularly known as Vision 22, locates information at the heart of sustainable socio-economic development, social justice and political stability. In an attempt to realise the dream of free-flow of information, the then Ministry of Public Service and Information crafted the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Draft Bill in 2007. It provides for access to information held by the public and private bodies. However, the process of passing it into law has taken much longer than expected. Presently, there is no freestanding law for accessing public information in the hands of public and private bodies. Worse still, public officials have secrecy obligations under the Official Secrets Act of 1968. This outdated law is inconsistent with the Constitution that provides for freedom of expression, making it even more difficult for citizens to access information held by public institutions. Swaziland needs to accelerate the process of passing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Draft Bill of 2007 into law, after review and consultation with stakeholders. Essentially, information is needed to make decisions – on individual matters, on community issues and matters of state. Media experts warn that openness, transparency and accountability will remain empty promises if access to information is not guaranteed. Christel and Hendrik Bussiek (2004) argue that custodians of public information must know that they hold it on behalf of the citizens. They should, therefore, avoid withholding information from them. The more information citizens have, the more their motivation for change will spur on development. Rationale and ReseaRch PaRaMeteRs The main aim of this study is to assess the level of openness and transparency of public institutions in the country in support of the ongoing Access to Information (ATI) campaign of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) - Swaziland Chapter (MISA Swaziland). The expected outcome from this ATI campaign is the enactment of an ATI legislation. This study involves eight public institutions drawn from government ministries and public bodies. It was conducted for a period spanning one month between July and August 2016. The following public institutions were surveyed: 1. 2. 3. 4. Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade Ministry of Health Ministry of Housing and Urban Development Ministry of Labour and social Security 5. 6. 7. 8. Central Statistics Office Financial Services Regulatory Authority Swaziland Communications Commission Swaziland Royal Insurance Corporation SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS Category 1: Website analysis • • • • • All the eight public institutions surveyed are accessible online, but ministries and government departments do not have separate websites as theirs are all linked to the national government website (gov.sz.). Five of the eight public institution websites surveyed, particularly those belonging to the government ministries and department (namely: the Ministries of Commerce, Industry and Trade; Health; Housing and Urban Development; Labour and Social Security; and the Central Statistics Office) rely on the national government website (gov.sz). The websites for the government ministries and department were not updated frequently and did not have other relevant information on news and events. For example, of the ministries’ websites that actually had a “news” and/or “events” section, only the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had information, whereas the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade did not even have a news section. All the websites of the three public institutions (Financial Services Regulatory Authority, Swaziland Communications Commission and Swaziland Royal Insurance Corporation) contained recent information. Compared to public company websites, most of the websites of government ministries and departments performed poorly. Category 2: Requests for information • • • • All the eight public institutions failed to respond within seven days to the questionnaires delivered. Other public institutions asked the researcher to re-send the questionnaires because they had misplaced them. All of the eight public institutions had to be reminded more than three times before they would provide responses electronically. Most of the public officials who were supposed to give responses claimed to be busy with other assignments and did not have time to respond to the questionnaires.