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MP condemns government secrecy, calls for freedom of information legislation

(MISA/IFEX) - Mmegi Online (http://www.mmegi.bw/ ), the webpage for Botswana's leading daily newspaper, reported on 18 July 2008 that the Member of Parliament (MP) for Gaborone North, Keletso Rakhudu, says he intends to table a motion requesting the government establish a Freedom of Information Act during the forthcoming parliamentary session, due to start in early August.

Rakhudu said his recent experiences as an election observer in Zimbabwe, where the government has banned the private and international press, would also inform his presentation. In an interview with "Mmegi" on 17 July, Rakhudu said that it is difficult for MPs to get information from the government because the state regards all information as classified. He cited an incident in his constituency when he was asking for the number of destitute persons so that he could donate blankets to them.

"The response I got from social workers was that they needed to get permission from their seniors before sharing it with me," he said.

He said that, in the absence of appropriate legislation, government can withhold information from MPs, the press and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) when it feels that the release of the information would be disadvantageous to the government.

"With the Freedom of Information Act in place, one just needs to register with the information bureau what kind of information he/she is looking for. You don't need to explain what you need that information for, and, in addition, government will be obliged to release it," he said.

Rakhudu is of the view that the advantages that would come from such an Act would include a reduction in bureaucracy and increased transparency, something Botswana aspires to attain under Vision 2016, a key document produced by the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), the official "visioning" secretariat.

During the four-week parliamentary session, the government plans to bring 10 new bills, among them the Media Practitioners' Bill. Although he has yet to study this bill, Rakhudu is of the feeling that such measures normally hinder freedom of expression and encourage secrecy.

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