05 April 2012

Botswana dragging its feet on the Freedom of Information Bill

The Freedom of Information Bill tabled in Botswana by a Member of Parliament is still not ready to see the light of day.

The bill presented late last year by the Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, Dumelang Saleshando, for review and discussion by parliamentarians this year, has been put on hold yet again. The delay has been attributed to a "secret memorandum" circulated to members of the Botswana Democratic Party.

The memorandum, which was allegedly drafted by two senior civil servants, allegedly claims that the Bill does not meet international standards and practices, and asks parliamentarians to oppose it.

Similarly, Associate Professor Rick Snell of the University of Tasmania Law School, said in terms of current global best practice the Bill is deficient in a number of areas, which he outlined.

"First and foremost the Bill is designed on the basis of returning the default position on accessing government information to secrecy or withholding information except in a number of limited and defined circumstances."

"The approach should be the opposite. The Bill should establish a system which defaults to openness and restricts the withholding of information to a limited number of defined circumstances where release of the information would be damaging."

There are fears that the ruling party might use this as an excuse to kill the bill. This fear is borne from the fact that whilst the memorandum highlights the shortcomings of the Bill, no further discussions on the betterment of the piece of proposed legislation have been brought forward.

See previous article on the Freedom of Information Bill tabled in Botswana.