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Campaign for Access to Information intensifies

The Namibian government again has been implored to adopt legislation that makes access to information a legally binding obligation.
Despite numerous calls from civil society for the introduction of access-to-information legislation, the Namibian government has so far not taken concerted steps to see to its enactment.

Addressing media practitioners on 20 August 2012, the head of the European Commission to Namibia, ambassador Raúl Fuentes Milani, said access to information is not only a right for citizens, but also an important tool for governments to monitor and evaluate the implementation of government programmes.

He said it would further provide the press an enhanced opportunity to obtain knowledge and information that is in the public's interest and allow it to play its watchdog role more effectively.

The bottom line is that a lack of proper information sharing of public and private enterprises prohibits citizens to make informed decisions, and makes the concept of participatory democracy, to which the Namibian state has purportedly committed itself to, a farce.

Despite the lack of access-to-information legislation, Namibia's media are astonishingly rated as one of the most free on the African continent.

Regional consensus was reached last year at the first Pan-African Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, on access to information not only as a human right, but also imperative for development, democracy, equality and the provision of public service.

The declaration made at this conference provides a framework for such a law in Namibia, through which the media and all Namibian citizens can work towards the consolidation of democracy and good governance.

The Action Namibia coalition - consisting of the regional office and Namibian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Insight Namibia, and the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) - will soon launch a national campaign urging the Namibian government to pass such a law.

Karen Mohan, specialist in media law policy and advocacy in the MISA regional office, said to uphold the democratic principles to which the state has committed itself, the Namibian government has the responsibility to facilitate access to information through the media.

Namibia has guaranteed press freedom and has adopted a slew of policies to accelerate the country's progress towards becoming more information friendly.

But Mohan said the absence of an overarching legal framework on access to information limits the scope of such guarantees.

"It is likely that an increase in cheap and widely available internet in the future, coupled with new media, is likely to ensure that citizens enjoy easier access to information," said Mohan.

From the perspective of writing on the national economy, economist Robin Sherbourne concluded that the culture of free and open disclosure remains in its infancy.

He said data in Namibia is generally available, but it is generally difficult to find the right person to provide such information.

"Most organisations, both public and private, are simply not geared to deal with data requests and queries, and most are reluctant to put themselves in the public spotlight for any reason," Sherbourne said.

Source: allAfrica