Thursday 16 October, 2013
The following speech was delivered by Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, national director of Swaziland’s Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), at a recent Access to Information awards ceremony.
I thank you for honouring our invitation on such a short notice. I also want to thank all those who participated in our Open & Secretive Public Institution Survey.
I’m not going to bore you with a long speech. I’m happy that Phakama Shili has already explained the Right to Information Day celebrated on September 28 which is the purpose of our gathering today.
As I was thinking about the relevant topic for my speech, I have picked two stories that I want to share with you. You must bear with me, I belong to the older generation which used to enjoy King Sobhuza II’s parables. What I like about parables is that they provide insight into and better understanding of issues.
My first story goes: a construction company owner assigns his builder, who is left with few days to retire, to build a house. As usual, he gives him a plan for the house. But, on this particular day, he doesn’t reveal the information about the owner.
Knowing that he is left with only few days, he decides to do a shoddy job when building the house. As a result, it turns out to be substandard and dangerous to occupants. Its finishing coincides with his farewell party. His boss asks him to bring along his supportive wife and children. He then presents the newly built house to him as a token of appreciation for his loyalty and long-service. Your guess is as good as mine. He learns a bitter lesson about lack of information.
The other one is about a parachutist who lands on the land of the nudists. Fascinated by his flying skills, they invite him to make a presentation in the evening in a community hall.
Knowing that he is among nudists, he never bothers about the dress code when he goes for his presentation. Lo and behold! The parachutist gets a shock of his life when he finds everyone well dressed inside the hall.
Sadly, this is another case of lack of information and the chilling effects of withholding information from people which is too common in our society.
From this survey, it has emerged that citizens still struggle to access information held by some public entities (government ministries and public companies), who are custodians of public information. Worse still, these don’t have open public lines of communication.
This is unacceptable in an information-based society. As the word suggests, they belong to the public and theirs is to perform a public service. They, therefore, don’t have any reason to withhold public information from the citizens.
The citizens have a right to know and a right to information. The citizens need information to make informed decisions and choices in life. Information is power, information is knowledge and information is security.
At this juncture, let me thank and congratulate the winners of our Golden Padlock Awards. One Golden Padlock Award goes to SRA for being the most open public institution while the other winner is the Ministry of Education for being the most secretive public institution in the land. We appeal to all public institutions to emulate the Swaziland Revenue Authority.
Without information, His Majesty King Mswati III won’t be able to usher this nation to the first world.
As MISA Swaziland we have mounted an Access to Information Campaign. Its purpose is to educate the citizens about the advantages and benefits of access to information. We really need your support in this campaign.
I thank you.
For comments or queries, please contact:
MISA-Swaziland National Director