Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Freedom of Information law not a priority ÔÇô Kwerepe

The tabling of the Freedom of Information Bill in parliament will not be done anytime soon as the government is still busy drafting another “important” law to be known as the Data Protection. 

A junior minister at the Office of the President, Thato Kwerepe said Monday that both the Freedom of Information Bill and the Data Protection Bill are still being discussed. 

Kwerepe refused to be dragged into the framework time as suggested by opposition legislature Phenyo Butale. Butale wanted the junior minister to commit himself considering the fact that the Freedom of Information Bill has been promised for a very long time. The said Bill has been at the parliamentary corridors since the 10th parliamentary session.

“The draft of Access to information Bill has been generated. It must be appreciated that in the context of contemporary digital information environment, issues of access to information are tied to those of data protection and privacy which has been our priority in the context of our e-legislation programme under the Botswana National Information and Communications Policy,” Kwerepe said.

Kwerepe maintained on Monday that the Freedom of Information Act can only be enacted after the Data Protection Act has been debated and passed in parliament adding that it is necessary that the latter pave way for the former. 

 “Both Bills await finalization by Government after which they will be tabled before this Parliament,” Kwerepe concluded.

Should the Freedom of Information Bill pass through parliament, it will create a statutory right of access to information held by public authorities, which include central and local government. The Act will see the public including journalists obtain access to official critical information which hitherto is a taboo.

In 2012, atleast nine of Botswana’s civil society movements got peeved at the ruling party legislators who used their numbers in parliament to oppose the Freedom of Information Bill (FOB). 

The Law Society of Botswana, MISA Botswana Chapter, Press Council of Botswana, Botswana Sector of Educators Trade Union, Botswana Public Employees Union, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions, Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS, Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, Botswana Land Boards and Local Authorities Health Workers Union collectively expressed their disappointment.

Tabled by the former Gaborone Central MP Dumelang Saleshando during the tenth parliament, the Bill was then deferred on grounds it needed more consultations with relevant authorities.

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Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 28, 2020.