BY FREDERICO LINKS –    We’ve all heard it now, haven’t we. President Hage Geingob, in his 2019 State of the Nation (SONA) address, in the National Assembly on the afternoon of Wednesday, 17 April 2019, said that an ATI bill will be tabled in parliament this year.

In fact, his direct words were: “We recognise that access to information is a critical component of the electorate’s ability to hold elected leaders to account. To that end, the anticipated Access to Information Bill will be tabled in parliament during 2019.”

On top of that, the 2019 SONA was full of references to “transparency” and “accountability”, and Geingob stated: “We further commit to upholding the principle of transparency.”  The president also stated that he endeavoured “to keep all communication channels open” as part of demonstrating “a responsive government”.

He added that government recognised and embraced the importance of social media – as evidenced by the implementation of a Social Media Policy – “and are leveraging this ’New Normal’ to enhance public access to information”, while cautioning against the use of social media to “spread disinformation and weaponised lies”. The president commended state departments and agencies that have “embraced social media as an effective tool for public information dissemination” and called on others to “follow suit”.

He also mentioned the fact that Namibia lost its top spot on the continent as the freest media landscape, saying the suggestion that this was due to the absence of an ATI law was “debatable”, rather suggesting that the decline was due to “cynical public discourse and damaging headlines”.

Against this backdrop he called on the media and civil society to be “mindful of the information they convey and the impact it has on society”.

ACTION welcomes the president’s expressed commitment to seeing an ATI bill tabled in parliament in 2019 and we look forward to engaging in this process.