Foreign Affairs and International Corporation Minster Phandu Skeleman’s Ministry has been ranked as the most secretive public institution in Botswana by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Botswana.
MISA Botswana researchers found that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the most secretive institution for this year, with a total of six out of 20 points.
“This was the lowest score followed by the Ministry of Education and Skills Development and Ministry of Mineral Energy and Water Resources both scoring seven points each. Despite having accepted and acknowledged the researchers’ letter of request for information, unlike the Ministry of Local Government, these three Ministries failed to accumulate points for their websites,” said MISA Botswana.
MISA Botswana said the poor scores by the three ministries can be attributed mainly to the limited information provided by their websites, which deny users the right to access common/public information through these sites. The other feature common among the three is a poor user interface, which makes it difficult for users to maneuver through the website.
“Special mention should be made of the Ministry of Local Government which refused to accept the written request for information. The reason behind the rejection of the letter was that the letter requested confidential information and therefore couldn’t be taken to the Public Relations office for a response until certain requirements were met by the information seeker,” MISA Botswana said.
MISA Botswana said it made sure that it did not reveal its identity throughout the study to avoid influencing the results. As was the case with previous surveys, government institutions continued to display signs of secrecy.
All the approached institutions demanded further explanations with respect to what the information requested would be used for as well as by whom it was being requested. At the end of the study there was no response from any of the participants, which left MISA Botswana with no other option than to identify the most open institutions based largely on an evaluation of the institutions’ websites.
According to MISA Botswana, “it seems the secretive culture of secrecy is dominating our government institutions, while members of the public are tirelessly thirsty for service delivery and information dissemination.” Due to poor performance across the board, MISA Botswana said no Public Institution will receive the Golden Key Award in 2014.
MISA Botswana recommended that Government Public Relations Officers should receive training to educate them on the importance of access to information. The issue of PROs having to sign non-disclosure forms should also be revisited, especially when it come to employees who hold information of public interest.
Guest speaker at the launch and secretary general of the research Botswana Federation of Public Sector Union (BOFEPUSU) Tobokani Rari said the public should get concerned at the growing tendency of secrecy and reluctance to release information to the media by public institutions. “This bureaucratic tendency of sending the media from pillar to post, asking for written questionnaires and taking forever to respond to them especially in government institutions kills transparency and governance,” he said.
University of Botswana academic Dr Peter Sebina called on journalists to remain resolute despite the current state of environment that they work in. “There is no transparency and institutions in this country are very secretive. Transparency is key. So let’s be seditious if need be,” he said.