GRN and Civic Society secretive with public information - Links

ACTION Coalition chairperson, Frederico Links et al’s latest access to information report has shown that civic society organisations and government institutions are very secretive with public information despite stated commitments.

Without a formalised access to information framework and a bill that is at executive level discussions, Links said Namibia still hangs with a mere expression of intent in the Harambee Prosperity Plan.

In their research, Links, Ndeshi Fikameni and Michael Hasheela sent requests between 10 May and 10 August 2017 for simple data from government offices, and a vast number of them did not respond.

An estimated 80 percent of all the organisations and institutions did not respond or could not provide information including nearly 60 percent of targets which simply did not respond in any meaningful way, the researchers have said.

They say this arguably speaks to a general and predominant Namibian institutional culture which does not prize transparency highly.

“The response rates amongst various state sector entities was low. In early May 2017, request letters were sent to 20 government ministries, just five responded while 35 percent simply did not respond to the initial request and follow up attempts,” they say in their report.

They have also expressed utmost concern over a 25 percent of government departments which out rightly refused to provide requested information while 15 percent claimed to not having data.

Speaking on the state of this information, Links says, “The information was mundane. It was a reasonable expectation that this information should be available. It was not controversial information but things like financial reports.”

The researchers are in agreement that “governance in the SOE sector has always been opaque, if not downright inscrutable.”

“The fact that 85 percent of SOEs approached for information were unresponsive also goes to undermine the prevailing narrative of improved governance, transparency and accountability in the state sector,” the researchers argue.

They further requested for public information from regional officers in all the 14 regions and the unresponsive rate stood at an almost 80 percent high.

“Out of the 14 regions, just one, Erongo, responded with information requested and in a reasonable time,” the researchers point out.

The situation in the civic society organisations space is also quite unflattering.

The researchers say that although CSOs fared better with regards to response at 30 percent, the non-response rate was also still surprisingly high at 60 percent.

“Disturbingly, 10 percent of CSOs refused to give out any information, even though the request was merely an enquiry after projects and programmes being run by the specific organisation through 2017,” say the researchers.

The private sector, especially mining companies, has fared well and for the study carried out, 14 of the biggest private companies were approached with information requests related to their corporate social responsibility activities and workplace health and health safety records.

“The response rate in the private sector was almost 25 percent while the non-response rate was below 45 percent. Interestingly for this sector, slightly over 20 percent of companies indicated that they had no information available on their corporate social responsibility activities, which probably indicates that they do not engage in such initiatives in any significant way,’ the researchers have observed.

Links said Namibia still lacked a culture in terms of transparency and that the nation was still veiled in a cloak of secrecy.

“It is quite disturbing but it is not surprising,” he said.