5 October 2017

Swaziland Still a Secretive State

Swaziland government ministries and public institutions remain unwilling to share information about their activities, a new report reveals.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) named the Ministry of Home Affairs as the worst offender among many. None of the departments and institutions surveyed had a good record.

MISA surveyed eight entities. In a report called Transparency Assessment 2017 The Citizens' Analysis of Government Openness it concluded, 'There is still a lot of reluctance from officials responsible for providing public information to both members of the public and media practitioners.

'Worse still, there are no clear lines of communication in most of these public institutions. Government ministries have hired information or communication officers but these public officers are paid for doing little in terms of providing information; they do not have the authority to respond to the queries brought to them. Only the Principal Secretaries in the government ministries are authorised to respond to the questions directed at the ministries.'

MISA added, 'Information on the officials designated to liaise with the public and the media is not even communicated through the websites. The situation is the same in public institutions--they do not have officials designated to provide information to information seekers.'

MISA said Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, needs a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Bill to encourage public institutions to release information to the public and media.

It added, 'The study results underscore the need for easing access to public information. It is high time that public institutions go an extra mile and prioritise information dissemination to the public and through the media. Government ministries should give the information and communication officers the authority to communicate information to the public and media because access to information is key to social, economic, political and cultural development.'

The survey is conducted annually and MISA said results of the 2017 study were little different from those of the previous years.

In 2007, the Swazi Parliament issued a draft bill on freedom of information. The first objective of this bill was to 'Encourage a culture of openness, transparency and accountability in public bodies by providing for access to information held by these bodies in order to enable every citizen to fully exercise and protect their constitutional right of freedom of expression.'

To date the Bill has not been passed.

In its 2017 report, MISA said, 'Swazi citizens continue to be deprived of critical information through the lack of a right to access public information. This state of affairs is in gross violation of Article 24 of the Constitution which states that a person has the "freedom to receive ideas and information".

MISA Swaziland has mounted an access to information campaign in a strong bid to push for the passage of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Bill into law.'

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