Access to information essential

Commemorating International Day for Universal Access to Information today, calls are being renewed to pass legislation on this issue.

28 September 2020 | Local News

Windhoek • [email protected]

The International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) is commemorated today (28 September) under the theme “Access to Information - Saving lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope!”
One of the main objectives is to advocate for the adoption and implementation of constitutional, legal and / or political guarantees to ensure access to information in times of crisis.
Late last week, the Namibian Institute for Democracy (NID) hosted a panel discussion on the importance of transparency and access to information. “If information is inaccessible, we will not participate in processes that affect our daily lives. In retrospect, we will not approve of decisions made or we may not understand them and therefore not know how to apply them,” Toni Hancox of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) said.
“The right to access information also affects many other areas. How is someone supposed to exercise their right to freedom of expression if they are not adequately informed about important issues?” Hancox said.
“Government is obliged to inform citizens. They are not doing the population a favour when doing so, however they are fulfilling their duty within the framework of good governance,” Zoe Titus, director of the Namibia Media Trust (NMT), said.
Hancox agrees, saying that in the context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments around the world have an obligation to do so.

‘Additional work’
In her opinion, the release of information must be voluntary and proactive. However, in Namibia very little information is easily accessible. “Often the state does not have the desired information because documents are not kept. If there are any, government employees are often unwilling to grant access as this means additional work for them,” Hancox says.
According to her, there are also no consequences if one is denied access to information.
ACTION (Access to Information Namibia) is an umbrella body of various civil society organisations that is primarily focused on the issue of transparency. “So far, the right to access information in Namibia has not been stipulated by law,” Titus says.
Following cooperation between ACTION and the Ministry of Information, a draft law was recently submitted to Parliament.
It is still unclear whether the proposal will be adopted, but Namibia is organising World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, 2021. “This day marks the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek-based declaration to ensure an independent media,” said Titus. Many media representatives from around the world would be visiting and it will be a shame if Namibia cannot produce an appropriate information law by then.”

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