In a rare move, Parliament has unanimously granted opposition lawmaker and Member of Parliament for Gaborone Central, Dumelang Saleshando, permission to table a private member’s bill on Freedom of Information, which will ensure that the public’s right to know prevails over government’s culture of secrecy.
Should the Freedom of Information Bill pass through parliament, it creates a statutory right of access to information held by public authorities, which include central and local government.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard after being granted permission to bring the bill, Saleshando said he would immediately start research on the bill and hopefully table it during the November sitting of parliament.
Commenting on the proposal to table the bill before it was approved by parliament on Thursday, Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, supported the motion arguing that starving the nation of information is tantamount to starving people of education and, as a result, it was hindering development.
He said the absence of a Freedom of Information Act means that only a few have access to information.
“This information has led to a few using it to their advantage,” he told parliament.
Mmolotsi cited the sacking of the 17 former government directors, saying the public was still waiting to hear why they were fired.
“We are still wondering as to what could have motivated the firing of the 17 government employees,” he said.
He said that members of the public were still wondering why the commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF)’s ground forces, Pius Mokgware, was forced to retire, adding that the flow of information would assist the public.
“I am interested in knowing how BDF tenders were awarded in the last 20 years,” he told Parliament.
Mmolotsi also added that with information readily available, members of the public would be able to establish why some companies were winning government tenders continuously.
On the other hand, Tati East MP Guma Moyo said that the bill would be a welcome development. He urged Salesahando to do a thorough research. He implored legislators to critique the bill once it is tabled before parliament.
“We should put aside our political differences and assess whether it addresses the public interest,” said Moyo.
The motion also received support from Minister Ponatshego Kedikilwe who indicated that such a law would be helpful as it would also safeguard the interests of members of the public whom he said are always victims of misinformation.
For his part, Kweneng East MP Moeng Pheto suggested that the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Lesego Motsumi, should also table a policy on Freedom of Information. Pheto stated that this would complement the bill if it is passed into law.