Gov’t secrecy irks BIDPA

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  • BIDPA says govt should bring Freedom of Information Bill in a defined time-frame
  • Wants FOI bill to fit well alongside Open Data strategy
  • Open Data programme can hike economic and innovative goals-World Bank

TEFO PHEAGE

The Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), has in its latest paper on government openness, rebuked the Botswana government’s secrecy saying it denies the citizenry benefits of an open government.
According to a published paper written by Naledi Madala and Molefe Phirinyane, open government is a global broad-based movement that aims to expand citizen access to the workings of government. “It is now widely acknowledged that greater openness benefits not only the citizens but also government by promoting better record management, making decisions and services more efficient and at best, serving as a safeguard against misgovernment and corruption,” they said.
The paper further says that the open government movement emphasises that governments have a responsibility to be accountable, transparent and participatory to their citizens. “Governments at various levels around the world are starting to establish formalised open government frameworks in an effort to demonstrate commitment to becoming more accountable and transparent governments for the citizens they serve,” the duo wrote.
The two researchers said the Open Government Declaration teaches that citizens should have access to information and that there should be transparency about governmental activities at every level. “As government is responsible for collecting information on behalf of the people, it should systematically collect and publish data on government spending and performance for essential public services and activities,” they said.
The duo posits that “as preparation for the Open Government programme, government should consider whether it wishes to make associated moves on transparency such as introducing the promised Freedom of Information Bill and joining the Open Government Partnership.”
According to the researchers, there is an urgent need to improve the e-government initiative whose main purpose was to develop and enhance several website features to improve customer service, particularly at local government.
“Although considerable efforts are made to improve government transparency at the national level, the e-government initiative has largely failed to recognise that the local authorities deliver the bulk of front-line services to the people. Successful and sustainable e-Government projects In Seychelles and South Africa have shown that e-Government thrives when implemented using a bottom up approach-where interventions, designs and approaches are influences by the local context at the grass roots level,” the researchers said.
They revealed that in Botswana and at local government level to be more precise, the public only have access to information that the local authorities choose at their own leisure to publicise.
Recommendations
The paper proposes the establishment and operationalising of an open Local Government framework within which local authorities will be supported to make wide-ranging local government information available online as part of an online Local Authority Notice Board.
“The online portal will allow local authorities to upload pre-defined set of local government documents in order to enhance the transparency of local government decision-making and local operations. The documents which may be availed therein will include council minutes, local budget documents, financial statements, the council procurement plan and sectoral service delivery plans,” they recommended.
The open Local Government framework will empower citizens to monitor performance of council level officials, as well as performance of front-line service delivery units, such as clinics and primary schools, the study says.
According to the duo, in order for this initiative to be a success it should operate within a clear policy framework. “Therefore, the government of Botswana should clarify its position on Freedom of Information and should bring forward a Freedom of Information Bill in a defined time frame. The bill has to be based on Commonwealth model of FOI Bill which would fit well alongside an Open Data strategy,” reads the study which further proposes the production and publication of an annual Local Authority Data Book.

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