MISA worried about Freedom of Info Bill

• Saleshando says Bill has been undergoing drafting for a decade
• Law expected to unlock info classified documents
• Will also open govt and leaders to scrutiny

The National Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Tefo Phatshwane, has expressed a deep concern about prolonged delays with the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill that the Minister of State, Kabo Morwaeng, recently said “will soon reach Parliament”. Morwaeng said that the Bill would be tabled soon after the consultation process was exhausted. In the wake of the minister’s remarks, Phatshwane said MISA calls on the government to treat the issue as a matter of urgency, considering the benefits associated with such a law to the citizenry, especially in the modern-day.

“We call upon the minister to hasten the drafting of the FOI Bill because the President long promised Parliament this Bill,” he said. “It is laws like this that contribute to development because transparency is an important aspect of any democratic government.” He added that it is through such laws that the government may come closer to realising its agenda as recently set. “If Botswana took its democracy seriously, this law should have passed years ago,” Phatshwane emphasised.
“We envisioned ‘an educated and informed nation’ in 2016 but failed due to the absence of laws such as this one. The government now talks of a knowledge-based economy. The question is, how do we achieve this when access to information is not a basic right but rather a privilege and the government chooses what and what not to share?
Nevertheless, he commended the government on consultations for the Media Practitioners Association (MPA) Bill, emphasising the need to uphold the same principles with FOI Bill.

The FOI Bill was first tabled by the MP for Maun West, Dumelang Saleshando, as a private member’s bill in 2011 but was rejected by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party which is now expected to table the bill “soon”. Speaking about the latest developments, Saleshando warned against early celebration, saying the Bill has been coming since a decade ago and it is still coming. “Don’t raise your hopes high,” Saleshando said. “The drafting of that Bill has been in the final stages since President Masisi was still a minister. When rejecting my Bill years back, he said theirs was at the final drafting stage.”

A decade
“It is now over a decade since then. The only logical conclusion we can reach from this is that the government prefers secrecy over openness and transparency. I personally don’t anticipate anything solid from that Bill if it comes.” If it came into operation, the law would feed the public’s right to access information within public authorities, including classified official documents. It would also address the media fraternity’s concerns about the secret nature of the government of Botswana.