It’s easier to get blood out of a stone than get information from the Swazi Government.
That seems to be the conclusion of a report into access to information undertaken by the kingdom’s leading media freedom group.
The office of the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) was rated the most secretive and inaccessible to information seekers.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland Chapter (MISA) said attempts to access information were met with hostility and uncooperativeness.
The DPM’s office was one of five institutions randomly surveyed for a month earlier this year to determine the levels of access to information.
Others were the Ministry of Education and Training, Ministry of Agriculture, NERCHA and the Swaziland Electricity Company. They were rated based on information available on their website and responses to questionnaires.
MISA yesterday (28 September 2010) presented the findings of its report ‘2010 Most Transparent and Secretive Public Institutions’ in Southern Africa. The DPM’s office was awarded the 2010 Golden Padlock Award of the Most Secretive Public Institution in Swaziland.
MISA Information Officer Michael Motsa told a media conference the DPM webpage was the ‘worst webpage of government ministries. It only had one page with basic information and a big picture of the DPM. The links provided did not have any information.’
Overall, the DPM’s office received a rating of zero out of a possible 20 points.
The survey reminds us that in Swaziland people are not allowed access to even the most basic information – no one will even confirm the number of wives King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has.
There is clearly a need for more access to information in Swaziland. It is not a free country and even though the constitution enshrines freedom of expression, people are not able to discuss openly many topics. Nor are people able to hold their government to account. One reason for this is that the people are not entitled to get information from government, public bodies and suchlike institutions.
In 2007, the Swazi Parliament issued a draft bill on freedom of information. The first objective of this bill was to ‘Encourage a culture of openness, transparency and accountability in public bodies by providing for access to information held by these bodies in order to enable every citizen to fully exercise and protect their constitutional right of freedom of expression.’
And what happened to that Bill? Don’t ask me it’s a secret.