“Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t mix.” — Harry S. Truman
Swaziland, one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, has many restrictive media laws, such as the Official Secrets Act 1963, which prohibits access to government-held information.
The Constitution does not include freedom of information as a stand-alone right. However, it does state under the protection of freedom of expression (section 24) that a person has the “freedom to receive ideas and information without interference”.
This constitutional protection is yet to be tested in the courts and means little in practice. There is a deeply entrenched culture of secrecy in government and public institutions. The government does not proactively disclose information. Requests for information are often rejected at the outset or get caught up in endless red tape. There is no means of appealing against government’s decisions to withhold information.
MISA believes the reluctance to release public information demonstrates that government fails to understand its job. Information that is obtained and produced by government and public bodies belongs to the public. Access to such information is not a privilege but a right.
As the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa states, “Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law”.
In 2007 the government produced a freedom of information bill. The media and other stakeholders heavily criticized the draft bill for falling short of international best practice on numerous counts. To date, no freedom of information bill has been gazetted.
MISA urges government to:
- Repeal or amend laws that are impeding the public’s right to know, such as the Official Secrets Act 1963
- Adopt freedom of information (FOI) legislation that is in line with best practice
- Equip government departments and public bodies to receive and respond to information requests and establish an appeal mechanism.
Have you been denied access to public information in Swaziland?
If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org