MISA-Botswana statement: Parliament must support pro- freedom of expression motions

Parliament must support pro- freedom of expression motions:

Freedom of Information Bill and,

Repeal of Media Practitioners Act.

The recent unanimous decision by Parliament to allow the Member of Parliament for Gaborone Central, Hon. Dumelang Saleshando to come up with a Freedom of Information Bill is much welcome and genuinely applauded. MISA-Botswana has been in the fore front calling for the enactment of a law that will guarantee access to information in this country.

Government have not been eager to support this call although the need for such has always enjoyed enormous public goodwill even within Government itself. Only about two years ago the Minister of Communications Science and Technology told parliament that the law was not Government priority. Government has always cited structures like Public Relations (PR) officers as adequate to provide this service.

Even though developing communication structures in Government is a laudable exercise, it is sufficiently recorded that the Public Relations role is not always the right answer to issues of access. We have continued to hear outcry from the public and in particular from the media about how the PR officers have become a hindrance to accessing public information.

While we do not expect the Freedom of Information Act to bring absolute access, we are certain that if compiled well, the law will reduce or completely do away with undue restrictions that pervade our public offices. The good thing about FOIA, which its detractors may not be aware of, is that it reduces unnecessary burden from the custodians of information and brings in objective valuation of information by the courts. The Government shall benefit greatly as she will find it easy to take services to people who are more informed about her programmes.

It is in this spirit that we applaud all members of parliament and the sponsor of the bill, in particular, for starting the process of coming up with a law and we are hopeful that it will be enacted eventually. MISA Botswana shall as always be prepared and ready to assist any member of parliament on how to go about debating the bill.

On a slightly different note we wish to acknowledge and recognise the upcoming motion of the repeal of the Media Practitioners Act. The motion, sponsored by member of parliament for Gaborone West-South, Hon Botsalo Ntuane is much welcome and we call upon legislators across political lines to support it. The good name of this country has been dragged in the mud as a result of this law and we are hopeful that our Parliament will assume its rightful responsibility and do the right thing. MISA Botswana has in the past sought guidance from international organisations dealing with these issues and they have been unanimous in finding fault with the law.

We trust and believe that our members of Parliament are honourable enough not to let their political differences cloud their judgement on issues of national interest.

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