13 January 2012

Freedom of Information Bill, tabled in Botswana

The member of parliament for Gaborone Central in Botswana, Dumelang Saleshando put forth the Freedom of Information Bill of 2010 (Click here to see the draft bill). The move by the parliamentarian comes after Botswana was awarded the 2011 'Golden Padlock' award for the country with the most secretive public institutions in southern Africa.

Freedom of information is an essential component for a successful democracy. This is more so in Africa, where problems with transparency, accountability and the protection of human rights are widespread.

The move by Botswana to table the bill has been hailed by institutions such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa, as a move in the right direction for any democracy. The addition of Botswana to the list of African countries that have tabled similar laws could serve as a catalyst for other countries to follow suit.

Most countries like Zambia to draft the law have used the Model law for African Union states as the basis for their domestic legislation. Similarly, Botswana has done just that by grounding its proposed bill on the model law. The Model Law takes into account international minimum standards and serves as a starting point for countries looking to establish their own legislation.

However, as it stands, the Botswans bill is flawed in that it falls short of international and AU standards. Pitting the draft bill against the model law, the bill is lacking in that it does not include; a right of access to information held by private bodies, a public interest clause, an independent review mechanism, and not all structures of government including the president are covered.

Passing a bill that does not meet international standards nor cover essential bases could prove to be a challenge in the implementation thereof.