4 December 2012

Namibia: Slim Hope for Changes to Research Regulations

THE new research regulations added to the Research, Science and Technology Act of 2004 are Cabinet directives and can’t just be amended by the Ministry of Education.

This was the response of the deputy minister of education, David Namwandi, to inquiries by The Namibian about allegations that the ministry has been ignoring non-governmental organisations and research institutions wanting to discuss what has been termed the “draconian nature” of the directives.

He said the ministry would soon respond to concerns raised by the institutions.

Non-governmental organisations such as the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) say the regulations seem to be aimed at “controlling and limiting research and enquiry” instead of promoting it.

The regulations state that any organisation or individual that conducts any activity that could be termed as research will have to apply to the government-appointed National Commission of Research, Science and Technology for permission to proceed with such research. This means 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 proposed regulations will have a “chilling effect” on research

in Namibia, the LAC, together the Namibia Non-governmental Organisations Forum (Nangof), backed by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned.

Namwandi said the regulations were a directive from Cabinet and the ministry “cannot just amend” them.

“As a team, if there are any concerns, we will try to understand the nature of the concerns and together see what can be done. We are open to providing a platform for such concerns to be heard,” he said.

Nangof, the IPPR and the LAC are among the organisations that have requested the Ministry of Education to completely scrap the regulations.

Ministry officials yesterday told The Namibian there were still areas that needed the minister’s consideration before sitting down with stakeholders to discuss concerns about the new regulations. They said the public would be notified of such discussions.

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 constitute 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 would 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 asked.

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