9 November 2012

Namibia: Law Threatens Research

A PUPIL doing a science project at school, or a doctor conducting a battery of tests to diagnose a patient, would need formal approval from a body appointed by the government if new rules added to the Research, Science and Technology Act 23 of 2004 go through in their current form.

The proposed regulations will have a “chilling effect” on research in Namibia, several non-governmental organisations have warned.

They say it is making “a nonsense of claims that Namibia wants to be a knowledge society and undermining any hope of the country achieving Vision 2030”.

The Namibia Non-governmental Organisations Forum (Nangof), backed by the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Legal Assistance Centre, requested a meeting with the Minister of Education in early September to seek the withdrawal of the regulations, but has yet to sit down with him.

The regulations state that any organisation or individual that conducts any activity that could be termed as research will have to apply to the National Commission of Research, Science and Technology for permission to proceed with such research.

What this means is that a research institute based in Namibia may not conduct any type of research in the country unless it is registered with the Commission.

The Act defines research as the systematic investigation or analysis into, and study of, materials, sources and the physical universe in order to establish facts and knowledge and reach conclusions.

A research institute is defined as any research, science or technological organisation, institute, society or other body, whether corporate or unincorporated, and whether in the public or private sector, which has the practicing of research, science and technology as a part of its activities.

“All tertiary institutions in Namibia would fall under this definition. Schools with learners who write research papers or conduct science fair projects would also seem to fall within this definition. Virtually any organisation which compiles statistics, even about its own activities, would fall under this definition – including most businesses and NGOs,” the LAC said.

In terms of the Act, a law firm which compiles heads of arguments based on a study of case law sources would be a research institute, as would a medical practice where doctors conduct systematic batteries of tests to diagnose their patients.

There are also concerns that a media outlet which analyses its readership or broadcast audience would constitute a research institute and so too most United Nations agencies operating in Namibia.

The proposed regulations state that every research project will require its own separate permission.

Failure to gain such permission could result in a N$20 000 fine or five years in jail and an indefinite ban on conducting further research in Namibia.

According to the LAC, IPPR and Nangof, the definition of ‘research’ is confusing and too broad.

“The regulations contain some draconian ideas as far as research in the country is concerned. The definitions ... are so broad that they do not simply apply to universities and established research institutes – they could conceivably even apply to a high school student conducting a small survey as part of a homework project,” said Ivin Lombard, executive director of Nangof.

He said the new rules put unnecessary restrictions on the ability of people and institutions to be part of the research profession, in addition to interfering with academic freedom.

“We think these regulations must be done away with and instead let us re-think what regulations we want to put up that will come in and promote research and differences of opinion so that Namibia becomes a thriving academic society where people can come up with research and others can freely challenge that research,” he said.

Lombard said the changes would affect Namibia’s competitiveness.

“Do these regulations mean that if we are doing research which government does not agree with, then it will not be done?” he inquired.

In terms of the Act, the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology will monitor and supervise research, science and technology in all sectors of the country.

It will have at least 12 members, eight of whom will be nominated by the government – six by the Minister of Education, one by the President and one by the Director General of the National Planning Commission.

The LAC views the domination of government appointees on the body as problematic and recommends that it be balanced between public and private sectors.

“There is no civil society representation, and limited representation of the private sector. The scope of persons representing the different sectors in terms of which research is conducted is also limited,” said the LAC.

The changes will come into force on a date still to be set by the Minister of Education.

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