Sadly, we have to issue yet another annual transparency
report lamenting the lack of an access to information (ATI)
law in Namibia. Each year, the Ministry of Information and
Communication Technology (MICT) issues promise after
promise that a bill will be tabled, but it never happens. It
has now become difficult to believe government’s public
commitment to legislating the right of access to information,
because it persistently fails to do so. The ministry’s failure
to table a bill is further intensified by the fact that ministry
officials are unable to provide a plausible reason for their
inability to do so.
It is important to note that government and civil society have
been partners in this journey towards greater transparency
since the launch of the ACTION Campaign in July 2012.
Aimed at raising awareness on ATI as an enabling human
right, and lobbying for a legislative and policy environment
that fosters ATI, the campaign was successful in fostering a
partnership between government, civil society, the media and
development partners.
In as much as this is an annual assessment of how citizens
experience accessing information from public institutions, it
also serves as civil society’s reflection on the ATI environment.
Since 2013, the Transparency Assessment has been an overview
of all the work that has been done towards achieving the goals
set by the ACTION Campaign. Thanks to the commendable
work by the African Platform on ATI (APAI), the goal to have
28 September recognised as International Day for Universal
Access to Information by the international community was
achieved in 2015. Namibia is one of the few countries that
officially commemorates this day. A major objective, which
was for more Namibians to be aware of their human right of
access to information and how it can enable them to access
other human rights, was also achieved.
Further, with the support of development partners,
government has made good strides in capacitating public
institutions’ understanding and performance with regard to
their respect of the public’s right to know. As development
partners, UNESCO Namibia and fesmedia Africa have been
instrumental in this journey, and for that we are thankful.
However, it is time to achieve the ultimate goal, which is an
access to information law, now – no more excuses. Greater
pressure must be placed on government for the tabling of an
access to information law.
The disappointment that comes with writing yet another
report that does not celebrate the passing of an ATI law
is assuaged by the fact that we can once again report an
improvement in public institutions’ performance with regard
to their accessibility and responsiveness to the public’s
demand for information.
We re-assessed the best and worst performers of last year.
The Ministry of Justice improved its performance, while the
Communications Regulatory Association of Namibia (CRAN)
scored a lot lower this year. This highlights the fact that


a citizen’s experience with a public institution can differ,
depending on various factors, and that an institution can
improve its performance once it is held accountable. It is
important that public institutions do not lower their standards
or quality of work once a good precedent has been set.
It is an undeniable fact that the lack of access to information is
an impediment to media freedom. This was highlighted when
the weekly The Patriot newspaper had to defend an urgent
court action by the Namibian Central Intelligence Service
(NCIS) in April, to prevent them from publishing an article
on corruption at the institution. The High Court dismissed
the bid with costs, arguing that the NCIS was established to
serve the state and thus remains accountable to the judiciary.
However, the NCIS thereafter lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court, arguing that the High Court erred when it found
that government was trying to get an interdict that would
have prevented The Patriot from publishing allegations about
corrupt activities. They also argued that the High Court did
not take into account the purpose of the 1982 Protection of
Information Act and the Namibia Central Intelligence Service
Act of 1997. Government’s legal team argued that the presiding
judge, Harald Geier, did not make a judicial interpretation of
the provisions of these laws, on which government relied in
their bid to prevent the publication of the article. The case was
still sub-judice at the time of going to press.
It does not happen often but, as with this court case,
government relies on outdated laws that do not adhere to
the free expression principles espoused by our Constitution.
Hence our consistent calls for the repeal of these and other
laws that do not serve the best interest of the Namibian people
and their right to free expression, access to information and
media freedom.
Presidential and National Assembly elections will be held
next year, during which tensions will be heightened and, as
with previous years, we can expect an increase in attempts
to censor or threaten media freedom. Another law that may
be more explicitly applied during this time is the Namibian
Broadcasting Act (No. 9 of 1991), which grants the information
minister wide discretion and powers to interfere with the
broadcaster’s independence. The NBC is already censored
in regard to how they provide news and information. During
election periods, it becomes a clear proponent of the ruling
party through the way it provides coverage. NBC has an
equal free airtime policy for all participating political parties,
however, a lot of the election coverage happens outside of
these allocated slots and this is when the discrepancy becomes
glaringly obvious.
Citizens deserve unbiased information about all participating
parties, in addition to analyses provided by experts from
various stakeholder and interest groups. Just as important,
the citizen’s voice should be at the forefront of the discourse.
Information and communication technology (ICT) continue
to enhance the public’s access to information. Thanks to the
establishment of the Internet Society of Namibia Chapter,
Namibian youth now have a platform where they can articulate
their views and realise their dream internet.

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