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Parliament to approve rules for appointing info commissioner

Written by on April 11, 2024

This week, the parliament is set to approve regulations that will set in motion the hunt for an information commissioner and his or her deputy for Namibia. This would operationalise an information commission under the Access to Information Act.

Once this is done, the regulations will be gazetted and will allow the secretary of parliament to set up a selection committee to recommend individuals for the two posts.

This was yesterday confirmed by deputy minister of information and communication technology Modestus Amutse.

Amutse told Desert Radio if all goes as planned the country should have its first information commission occupied by a head and a deputy before the second half of the year starts.

“By June, ideally, we should have an information commissioner,” he said.

In her recent budget motivation speech, information minister Emma Theofulus said the Access to Information Act would be implemented this financial year. The first step is to set up an information commission. “An amount of
N$19 930 744 will be allocated for the operationalisation of the information commission,” she said.

According to the act, the information commissioner and his or her deputy will remain for a term of five years, limited to two terms each.

The selection committee appointed by the secretary to the National Assembly would comprise the chairperson of the Public Service Commission, the executive director of information and communication technology, the chief executive of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia, as well as other nominated members.

“It’s quite a number of processes to be followed for transparency, but that shouldn’t really create fear among the public, because it’s a process that can take place within a month or two once it commences,” Amutse said.

He said once the selection committee is appointed, it should take members about 21 days to receive applications from the public.

“It should take a month because once they advertise, it should take about 21 days or so for them to receive applications by the public, and after five days they should have convened and made a selection,” he said.

The names of the shortlisted candidates will be published, followed by a public interview process not more than five days later, according to the deputy minister. The names of two to three selected candidates will be sent to parliament for debate and approval, upon which the president will select an information commissioner and his or her deputy. Amutse said the parliament would go into recess in May, which may delay the process. “I don’t believe the other processes that are left would be completed before the parliament goes into recess. The next process would only take place when the parliament reconvenes in June,” he said.

Namibia Media Trust executive director Zoe Titus yesterday welcomed the ministry’s intended action. “This is a very significant and welcome development. It shows political willingness to enable Namibians to exercise their rights to access to information. It is crucial that we get this step right,” she said.

“Have, as the law indicates, a transparent public process leading to the appointment of a candidate above reproach – one with integrity, someone who holds the public’s confidence and has the wherewithal to interpret the law from a human rights perspective,” she said.

Access to Information in Namibia (Action) Coalition chairperson Frederico Links also welcomed the move. “It’s good that a budgetary allocation has been set aside to operationalise aspects of the Access to Information Act of 2022, and as the Action Coalition, we welcome the government’s move to initiate the setting up of an information commission, starting with the appointment of an information commissioner,” he said this week. He further called for a free and fair process throughout the entire exercise.

“Given that there’s now a commitment to appoint the information commissioner by mid-2024, we wish to call on the information ministry to follow the law and ensure that the process is open, fair and transparent,” Links said.

Communication and media lecturer Clayton Peel said the government should be given enough time to implement the act.

“Let’s give the government the benefit of the doubt here. Legislation is complex at the best of times, and both the government and parliament have roles of scrutinising the provisions to ensure their fairness, effectiveness, constitutional propriety and public benefit,” he said.

“The occupants of these new posts will have to be on the side of the larger society first and foremost, rather than functionaries in the palms of their paymasters. “I say this because appointees to some public offices fall into the constraints placed by politics and other selfish objectives, and in the end, those well-intended offices are not seen as effective.
“Let us give the government a chance to get it right this time,” he said.

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