The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has hit back at information communication technology minister, Tjekero Tweya, for labeling the independent body’s report dubbed, “Access Denied” devoid of any truth and malicious.
This comes a day after Tweya reacted with shock to the access to information report whose findings are that a majority of government offices with-held public information.
IPPR director, Graham Hopwood, said while the report should be seen as a window for government to identify and address weak points, the minister’s reaction to it is disappointing.
“It is disappointing that the Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Hon. Tjekero Tweya, chose to issue a blanket condemnation of the Access Denied report by claiming it was "devoid of any truth" and that IPPR has a "malicious agenda,” said Hopwood.
While Tweya alleged that the institution failed to avail the names of ministerial public relations officers approached during the research, Hopwood has come out to say they approached permanent secretaries since these have been long considered access points.
“It has to be pointed out that after the report was launched, the MICT contacted the IPPR for further information on the officials who had been approached for information on December 7. It was made clear at the launch and then to the MICT that the approaches had been made to Permanent Secretaries.”
“The IPPR sent a table listing officials who had been contacted during follow-up calls and emails to MICT on Wednesday December 13. The MICT official who had been requesting the information responded via email later on December 13 by saying 'Thanks a million'. There was no further response from the Ministry saying that the information provided was inadequate in any way,” explained Hopwood.
IPPR has said it finds it difficult to accept the minister’s argument that the information requests should not have been sent to the Permanent Secretaries but rather to the Public Relations Officers in each Ministry and that this somehow resulted in the high number of non-responses.
Said Hopwood, “It is concerning if the offices of Permanent Secretaries are not capable of passing on information requests to the ministry PROs or other relevant officials. Follow-up phone calls and emails were also made to the Permanent Secretaries' offices.”
IPPR has also argued that in the past, the institution had been told that information has to be furnished to permanent secretaries first.
“Our colleagues in the media have also confirmed that this is often the response from PROs and other government officials,” Hopwood said.
He added, “The Minister also stated that 80 percent of the information requested is "in the public domain and easily accessible" with most being available on government websites.”
“The IPPR's researchers had checked official websites to see if the requested information was already available on line. It would be helpful if the MICT could list the URLs where all this information is available,” said Hopwood.
Tweya has come out to say the information IPPR requested from the tourism and environment ministry was considered a threat to processes underway.
Yet IPPR maintains such requests “were carefully chosen to be non-controversial so that there was no question of responses being denied on grounds of 'security'.”
The institute also scoffs at the minister who said 80% of the information was already in the public domain, websites and documents.
Hopwood countered saying IPPR's researchers had checked official websites to see if the requested information was already available on line and that it would be helpful if the MICT could list the URLs where all this information is available.
“It is important to note that this report showed high levels of non- responsiveness from the private sector and even civil society and was not simply aimed at exposing problems in government when it comes to access to information.”
“There is no point in denying that ATI is problematic across different sectors of Namibian society. Improving access to information is something we can all work on together - in the spirit of Harambee - to ensure the public have the information they need,” Hopwood said.