The draft Access to Information (ATI) bill, drawn up in 2016 after consultations between the Namibian government and civil society representatives, is yet to see the light of day. A delegation of civil society members, convened under the ACTION Coalition, today met with Ombudsman John Walters to discuss the status and content of the ATI legislation and how the process of promulgating a law may be sped up.
During the meeting the ACTION Coalition members expressed concern that the delay in moving ahead with the law has caused an imbalance between protection of information and access to information. ACTION Coalition Chairperson Frederico Links pointed out that the Protection of Information Act 84 of 1982 remains on the country’s statute books and is being used to undermine the media and public’s access to public information. He referred to the recent attempt by the Namibia Central Intelligence Service to muzzle corruption reports by the Patriot newspaper.
Walters highlighted certain shortcomings in the current version of the legislation pertaining to the autonomy, appointment and reporting structure of the proposed Information Commissioner. He advised that the appointment would have to be merged into the organisational structure of the Office of the Ombudsman at the level of a deputy Commissioner, should it be decided to house the Information Commissioner in the Office of the Ombudsman.
The ACTION delegation welcomed the proposal that the Information Commissioner would be hosted in the office of the Ombudsman as a compromise, whilst acknowledging that ideally that office would have been independent of both the line Ministry and the Ombudsman. The ACTION Coalition assured Walters of its support to aid the relevant stakeholders in the drafting process of the ATI Bill, adding that it would meanwhile sustain its efforts to sensitise Namibians about the importance of the right to access to information.
The ACTION Namibia delegation comprised of Frederico Links (Chairperson, Institute for Public Policy Research – IPPR) Carola Engelbrecht (Citizens for an Accountable Society), Zoé Titus (Namibia Media Trust), Graham Hopwood (IPPR), Gwen Lister (NMT), Toni Hancox (Legal Assistance Centre) and Jane Mungabwa (ACTION secretariat). The Editors’ Forum of Namibia was not available to join the delegation.