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On International Right to Know Day today (28 September) African democracy institute Idasa calls on countries that have taken bold steps of enacting access to information laws, such as Uganda, Angola and South Africa, to not regress into secrecy, but further strengthen implementation of these laws.
Idasa’s call to defend our access to information, made on International Right to Know Day, comes in the context of the controversial recently amended Protection of Information Bill which threatens to narrow media access to government held information. This poses a threat against what is arguable the most progressive Right to Know legislation in Southern Africa.
Idasa warns that the only Southern African country, apart from South Africa, with advanced freedom of information legislation is Zambia, with a bill currently in the form of draft legislation.
In southern Africa six SADC countries have expressly guaranteed the right to information within their constitutional framework, namely; South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, the DRC, Tanzania, and Madagascar. Another eight other SADC countries have only protected this right within the context of the broader right of freedom of expression which normally includes the right to “seek, receive and impart information”. These countries are Botswana, Lesotho, Angola, Zambia, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Swaziland.
The Zambian bill, a product of a healthy and successful partnership between the government and civil society, was first tabled before parliament in 2002. It was unceremoniously withdrawn by the government during its second reading, but six years later, in early 2008, was reintroduced by the late Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, and it is now reaching resolution.
“Hence, it is evidently still early days in the enactment of Freedom of Information laws on the African continent,” Idasa’s Yolanda Taylor of the Right To Know, Right to Education project said.
Access to Education, Quality of Basic Education and Linkages with the Right of Access to Information
See the full details here.
While SA debates access to information legislation, how are other countries in Africa doing? Current parliamentary debate within South Africa on the proposed Protection of Information Bill has got NGOs like Idasa thinking about how the current weakness of many African parliaments leave them unable to legislate for the right to information, compromising this fundamental tenet of democracy. Comment on article by Nancy Dubosse, manager of research in Idasa’s Economic Governance Programme, who looks at the state of access to information in other parts of Africa. See print friendly version here. Continue reading
In Idasa’s view, the broadness and vagueness of many aspects of South Africa’s new Protection of Information Bill, as well as the lack of an independent appeal mechanism and the absence of a public interest override, all suggest that information may be withheld on potentially very subjective and unconstitutional grounds. This would represent a dilution of a progressive transparency framework that has sought to entrench the public’s right to know about the governance of public affairs that directly affect the lives of people and important aspects of their wellbeing. Read PIMS’s submission to Parliament on the bill and have your say here.
Listen to Leo from ISODEC (Ghana) and Raynor from Elimu Yetu (Kenya) on the work they are doing on education rights in Africa. Both were participants at a training workshop on using “Media for Advocacy” in Tanzania in February 2010, for partners and colleagues around the continent, working in education.
Also see the pictures from the workshop here.
Without information, citizens live the lives assigned to them or lives of chance. With information, they choose their future.
Celebrating International Right to Know Day on 28th September, Idasa has a range of activities planned – starting with the screening of a documentary about participatory budgeting in Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela. Beyond the documentary, Idasa’s commemoration of Right to Know day includes panel discussions on the importance of information in quality basic education in Argentina and the quest for quality basic education in Malawi.
Idasa believes that the citizen’s right of access to information is at the heart of a healthy democratic system. The right of access to information facilitates the ability of citizens to claim other rights (e.g. health, education). enhancing dialogue between citizens and their representatives and ensuring transparency and accountability in the use of resources.
See the full press release here.
Listen to the podcast about Your Right to Know Right to Know Day – Idasa.