Members of Parliament from both the opposition and ruling parties have reacted with shock and dismay at a statement made by the Minister of Communications Science and Technology, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi this week that government has no intention to establish a Freedom of Information Act.
The minister said structures to disseminate information from and to the government enclave have been setup.
She said if anything the existing structures could be improved.
Reacting to the statement in an interview with the Sunday Standard this week, Specially Elected Member of Parliament Botsalo Ntuane said none of the reasons cited by Venson-Moitoi for not coming up with the Act have anything to do with the objectives of the Freedom of Information Act.
According to Ntuane, who has always advocated for this piece of law, failing to establish it will simply mean Botswana’s democracy is no longer progressive.
He fears the country might fail to rise to other similar challenges in future.
Another BDP backbencher from the Shoshong constituency, Duke Lefhoko, expressed dismay and wondered if Communications Minister Venson-Moitoi has, in fact, acquainted herself with the pillars of the 2016 Vision, which include transparency. According to Lefhoko, “the statement sounds as though it has been made by a government bureaucrat who has completely misconstrued what they were supposed to tell the National Assembly”.
Analysing the minister’s statement further, Lefhoko, who is also Chairman of the backbenchers, said a democracy as dynamic and progressive as Botswana’s would rather enlighten people as to what having the Act meant rather than simply saying it has no intention of establishing it.
Secretary of the backbenchers, Keletso Rakhudu, was of the opinion that government cannot be developing access to communications and technology tools on one hand while not intending to allow citizens to freely use those tools.
“The communications and technology minister is forever informing us of the different strategies that her ministry is implementing to ensure Batswana have access to information such as Maitlamo she cannot tell us these strategies do not need a Freedom of Information Act if they are to truly succeed.”
Rakhudu went on to also wonder why a Freedom of Information Act was not brought to parliament before the Security and Intelligence Bill could be passed by the national assembly, according to Rakhudu the former is of a higher priority.
The Botswana National Front MP from the Kgatleng East constituency, Isaac Mabiletsa, summarized his analysis of the Venson-Moitoi statement in one sentence, “The Botswana Democratic Party likes to cling to old ideologies, even as the rest of the world changes to better inform its citizens of developments. The BDP is continuing an old legacy of secrecy; what is the Democratic Party hiding? What are they afraid people will find out?”
Prior to informing the national Assembly of government’s intentions not to come up with the Freedom of Information act, Venson-Moitoi presented her ministry’s draft Information Communications Policy to the house.
Gaborone Central MP Dumelang Saleshando has dismissed the draft policy as a fairy tale that is out of touch with reality.
His take is that before coming up with such things as the internet and cell phones, government should be providing basic technological needs such as electricity and affordable telephone lines.
Even though Parliamentarians are busy protecting the right of the public to having a Freedom of Information Act, a random sample survey of fifty people, living and working within the areas of downtown Gaborone (Bus-station & Main Mall), Gaborone West and Tlokweng has revealed that citizens of Botswana will have to be educated as to what the Freedom Of information act is and what it entails. Only six out of the total questioned had a clue as to what the act is but did not see the need for it.
Respondents noted that Botswana’s citizens are too lazy to access information.
Rather than government failing to give the public information the public is not interested. The other forty-four respondents had no clue what the Freedom of Information act.