Thursday, March 4, 2021

Tombale urges Masisi to fast track freedom of information bill

Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) Chief Executive Officer Dr Akolang Tombale recently challenged Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Mokgweetsi Masisi to hasten the drafting of the Freedom of Information Bill as he long promised parliament.
“Freedom of information laws around the world need improved implementation if they are to contribute to development. I therefore urge the Minister of Presidential Affairs to hasten the drafting of Freedom of Information Bill as he long promised some three years ago,” said Tombale at the World Press Freedom Day commemorations in Lobatse, where he was guest speaker.

He said transparency is an important aspect of governance as it allows the media to prosper, adding that lack of transparency will ultimately feed corruption, which is one of the most corrosive vices that states have to deal with in the development process.
“Independent investigative journalism is an ally of open government and thereby enhances the effectiveness and legitimacy of the development processes,” said Tombale.

He called for greater access to public documents and public decision making processes to empower citizens with information about development processes. He added that access to information should be supported by a strong right to information law that enables the citizenry, including the news media, to easily access information in the public domain speedily, freely and readily. Three years ago, Masisi promised to table a government sponsored FOI bill after parliament rejected a private members bill tabled by Gaborone Central Member of Parliament Dumelang Saleshando. Masisi has since come under increasing pressure to table the draft bill as promised, and he has deferred the tabling more than once. In response, Masisi said the draft bill is still awaiting consideration and approval by cabinet.

In operation, the FOI Bill would extend to members of the public the right to access information in the possession of public authorities, including classified official documents. The media fraternity has in the past raised complaints about the secret nature of the government of Botswana, saying most corrupt practices go unreported because of the absence of this law.

Tombale over the weekend piled more pressure on Masisi, saying regulatory reform of media and defamation laws are necessary steps in the direction of good governance and development.

“Insult laws and criminal libel laws remain disproportionate in terms of international standards on legitimate limits of freedom of expression. Such restrictive laws artificially protect officials from being scrutinized by media or the public,” he said.

He called for a thorough decriminalization of defamation laws, saying they have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and cripple good governance.

“Free, pluralistic and independent news media contribute to empowerment including social, economic and political process. This is a people-centered approach of special relevance to women, youth and the marginalized as actors in the developmental agenda,” said Tombale.

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