9 May 2018

Swaziland: Swazi Govt Hides From the Public

analysis

People in Swaziland cannot access critical information from government and there is no political will in the kingdom for this to change, a report on media freedom concluded.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said a law to allow access to information had been drafted in 2007 but had been 'left to gather dust on the shelves'.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government ministers. There are few opportunities in Swaziland for people to engage in free and open debate.

MISA in its annual report on media freedom So This Is Democracy? Said, 'Swazi citizens continue to be deprived of critical information through lack of legislated access to public information, the lifeblood of national development.'

It added this violated the Swaziland Constitution which states a person has 'freedom to receive ideas and information'.

Each year MISA in Swaziland investigates government departments and other public institutions to discover how well they share information.

In its most recent report in 2017 it 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.'

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.

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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