INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND
Botswana is a landlocked Sub-Saharan African country located in the southern part of Africa. The country borders South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. Since its independence from Britain in 1966, the country has been hailed for its prudent management of natural resources, political stability, peace, good governance, democracy and freedom of expression. However the country has been affected dramatically by the HIV/AIDS disease with 18.5% of the country’s 2 million citizens reported to be infected by the disease (Statistics Botswana, 2014). Despite this challenge the country has stable economy and rank high in most of the world’s development indicators such as education, economic development and gender equality.
APPLICATION OF LAW IN BOTSWANA
Due to the country’s legacy of good governance and democracy, the government have always strived to ensure that relevant laws are in place to help guide the developments and reduce uncertainties and ambiguities in the country. Laws are fully debated at parliamentary level with the contribution of citizens taking centre stage through a consultative process. This is also a cultural attribute embedded in the DNA of the citizens referred to as “Morero”, which translate roughly to consultation. Through this process the country has achieved citizen inclusion in government matters while at the same time keeping citizens informed about government’s activities.
LEGISLATION ON ACCESS TO DATA
The efforts to introduce legislation on access to data in Botswana dates back to 1997 as a recommendation of the Presidential Task Group for a Long Term Vision for Botswana report titled “Towards Prosperity for All” (Vision 2016 Commission, 1997). In 2010 a Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) was presented to the parliament. The bill was to pave way for a FOI Act which to this date is still not been finalized.
“The object of the Bill is to extend the right of members of the public to access information in the possession of public authorities by, inter alia –
- Making available to the public, information about the operations of public authorities and, in particular, ensuring that the rules and practices affecting members of the public in their dealings with public authorities are readily available to persons affected by those rules and practices;
- Creating a general right of access to information in documentary form in the possession of public authorities, limited only by the exceptions and exemptions necessary for the protection of essential public interests and the private and business affairs of persons in respect of whom information is collected and held by public authorities; and
- Creating a right to bring about the amendment of records containing personal information that is incomplete, incorrect, misleading or not relevant to the purpose for which the document is held.” (Shaleshando, 2010).
There have been a lot of discussions, especially from media houses and journalists as a way to put pressure on the government but so far their efforts have been fruitless. International experts however have scrutinised the current bill citing that it lack content. Daruwala and Nayak (2011) postulated that in comparison to the Indian Right to Information Act of 2005 the bill doesn’t include a lot of aspects such as DNA data, political parties and private entities performing public services within the definition of “public authority”. However the authors praised the former Member of Parliament, Mr Shaleshando for drafting the bill (Daruwala & Nayak, 2011).
It is without no doubt that the FOI Act in Botswana would further strengthen the already existing good governance and democracy upon its finalization. The act will also increase government’s accountability and answerability to its citizens. The government should also view this Act as an opportunity to further reinforce the existing trust that prevails between itself and the citizens. It is this trust that has contributed to the success story of Botswana. As the world embarks on the Sustainable Development Goals agenda (SDGs) it is of utmost importance that such policies and laws as the access to information by citizens of the world be looked into and countries must be pressurized to implement such policies and laws. It is through such policies and laws that country institutions can be strengthened and eventually peace, justice and strong partnerships be achieved. – Moalosi Lebekwe, Botswana.
- Statistics Botswana. (2014). Botswana AIDS Impact Survey IV (BAIS IV). Gaborone: Replubic of Botswana.
- Daruwala, M., & Nayak , V. (2011). Freedom Of Information Bill, 2010, Botswana; Preliminary Comments, Recommendations and Improvements. New Delhi: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).
- Shaleshando, D. (2010). Freedom of Information Bill. Gaborone: Republic of Botswana.
- Vision 2016 Commission. (1997). Towards Prosperity of All. Gaborone: Republic of Botswana.