Southern Africa’s most open and most secretive government and public institutions in 2014

Southern Africa’s most open and most secretive government and public institutions in 2014

From Sunday 28 September, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Chapter offices have been marking International Right to Information Day across the region by announcing the recipients of this year’s Golden Key and Golden Padlock Awards.

This is the sixth year MISA has coordinated researchers from all over southern Africa to evaluate the openness and transparency of government and public institutions throughout the region. The result of the research is a published report and the awarding of the Golden Key to the most open government or public institution and the Golden Padlock to the most secretive government or public institution in each country where the research was conducted.

Download the report here:

Part one (Botswana to Swaziland)

Part two (Tanzania to Zimbabwe)

MISA Regional Director Zoe Titus said, “Despite ongoing campaigns, only three southern African countries have access to information legislation. This annual research demonstrates why it’s important that more countries develop legislation promoting and protecting the public’s right to government-held information.”

The recipients of this year’s Golden Key Award for the most open government or public institution were:

Botswana– Due to poor performance across the board, no public institution received the Golden Key Award in 2014.

Lesotho– Office of the Ombudsman

Malawi– Malawi Electoral Commission

Namibia– Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare

Swaziland– National Emergency Relief Council on HIV and AIDS

Tanzania– National Bureau of Statistics

Zambia– Lusaka City Council

Zimbabwe– Ministry of Psychomotor

The recipients of this year’s Golden Padlock Award for the most secretive government or public institution were:

Botswana– Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

Lesotho– Ministry for Energy, Meteorology and Water Affairs

Malawi– Blantyre District Council

Namibia– National Housing Enterprise

Swaziland – Ministry of Education and Training

Tanzania– Judiciary of Tanzania

Zambia– Ministry of Health

Zimbabwe– Zimbabwe United Passengers Company

Research was carried out in eight southern African countries between May and July 2014. Researchers evaluated institutions’ websites, or lack thereof, and surveyed their willingness to engage with the public by sending out written requests for information and requesting information via telephone or in person.

One significant improvement MISA has observed over the past five years is an increase in institutions with websites and improved quality of these websites. This year, we were encouraged to see almost all surveyed institutions have some sort of online presence. We are also slowly starting to see institutions develop a social media presence.

Unfortunately the trend with regard to responses to written and oral information requests is not so positive. Most countries reported little to no improvement in this category over the years and Malawi had their worst results in the five years of research.

The number of African countries with access to information (ATI) laws currently stands at 14. This includes three southern African countries – Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The number of countries with ATI laws more than doubled between 2011 and 2014, and yet not one southern African country enacted ATI legislation during this time. As more and more countries recognise the need for positive ATI laws, southern Africa continues to lag behind, denying their citizens the tools to access the information crucial to enabling them to make informed decisions about their lives, their communities and their governments.

“But the buck doesn’t stop with legislation,” said Ms Titus.

“While ATI legislation is an important tool to encourage governments to become more transparent, it is also the responsibility of each individual institution to make the choice and the effort to be more proactive in releasing information to the general public, both in terms of general information on their website and responding to requests for specific information.

“An informed and empowered citizenry is the basis of a strong and legitimate democracy, something every country should aspire to,” she said.

What is clear from MISA’s 2014 report, Most Open and Secretive Government Institutions in Southern Africa, is that public institutions in the region continue to improve with respect to the provision of information through information and communication technologies, but have been unable or unwilling to improve their ability to respond to public requests for information.

About MISA Zimbabwe

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe was founded in 1996. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.