The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and Fesmedia Africa celebrated the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), on 28 September by launching the Transparency Assessment Report 2023. The report, which is commonly referred to as The Golden Padlock and Golden Key report on Open and secretive Public Institutions in Southern Africa has been conducted by MISA for more than ten years.
During the virtual launch, Ms. Freya Gruenhagen Representative and Director of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Namibia and Fesmedia Africa said that transparency, citizen participation and accountability; are the prominent factors to reduce or even prevent corruption, mismanagement of resources and inefficiency in the public and private sectors. "Without access to information there is no democracy" she emphasised. Ms. Gruenhagen stressed the importance of cooperation between the authorities and civil society to promote transparency and access to information.
African countries like developed nations are beginning to open up data towards attaining transparency and accountability, said Dr. Tabani Moyo, the MISA Regional Director in his remarks during the launch. He emphasised that we should continue to “Stimulate conversations that fit into the global agenda setting but with imaging from the global south. It is from this perspective that we are engaged in this timely conversation leading to the launch of the transparency assessment index, which is a collective effort of the southern African community, highlighting to the world how are the citizens of southern Africa interacting with their policymakers and how they rate that interaction: How open is it? How closed is it? What are the recommendations that we can make?”
This year’s assessment, which was the twelfth was conducted in seven Southern African countries namely; Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, overall, examining 66 government and public institutions.
There is a general tendency of lack of openness and secrecy to a certain degree among the 66 surveyed public institutions, although some institutions demonstrated a willingness to be transparent and give citizens access to information.
According to Mr. Nqaba Matshazi, the coordinator of the index, there is a need for engagement with public institutions to foster capacity building in terms of Access to Information and the promotion of proactive disclosure of information.
Since 2009, MISA has evaluated the level of openness of government and public institutions in its annual Transparency Assessment. Carried out by MISA Chapters alongside local researchers, the study seeks to establish the ease or difficulty with which citizens can access public information.
Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the researchers assessed the websites of governments and public organizations to determine whether credible and updated information is available to the public. A focus was placed on the powers and functions of the organization in question, budget allocations, procurement procedures, and contact details a second step, entities were queried to determine how easy it is to obtain public information from governments and public organizations. A score was then formed from these criteria.
Freedom of expression and the right of access to information, are cross-cutting rights that are necessary for the realization of all other human rights. Both rights could contribute to socio-economic change in Africa. The report presents the state of affairs within government institutions when it comes to transparency and openness or lack of it. It also gives civil society actors and citizens the tools to hold engagements with governments and to hold government institutions accountable for their actions in the conduct of public business.