Freedom of Information as a Catalyst for Responsiveness in the e-Government Environment: A Closer Look at Botswana

Freedom of Information as a Catalyst for Responsiveness in the e-Government Environment: A Closer Look at Botswana

Kelvin Joseph Bwalya (University of Botswana, Botswana), Peter Mazebe II Mothataesi Sebina (University of Botswana, Botswana) and Saul F.C. Zulu (University of Botswana, Botswana)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8430-0.ch008
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Abstract

As Botswana actively transcends to utilizing e-Government as a platform for responsive public service delivery, it is apparent that a probe is done on the role of Freedom of Information (FOI) on government responsiveness. This chapter explores the fundamental concepts of contemporary e-Government and enunciates how FOI can be embedded in the e-Government agenda in the developing world using Botswana as a case. The chapter posits that the delay in adopting FOI in Botswana incapacitates the ability of state actors to exhibit acceptable levels of lucidity and ingenuousness during their delivery of public services and in turn promotes a culture of sluggishness which serves to promote the current existing information asymmetry. The chapter further posits that FOI may help the government of Botswana achieve its commitment towards the attainment of a knowledge-based economy during the period of the National Development Plan (NDP) 10.
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Introduction

E-Government is slowly being recognized as a lever that enhances the quality of public administration, service delivery and improved responsiveness of governments to needs of citizens, business requirements of the private sector and cross-territory governance relationships. In fact the adoption and effective use of e-Government has the propensity to strengthen citizen participation in their governance. Botswana has committed itself through the National Development Plan 10 (2009 – 2016) to develop a knowledge based economy as a measure of reaching full e-Government utilization. It is in view of this that the government of Botswana is implementing e-Government to facilitate effective public administration and service delivery hence a lot of interventions are currently being put in place. Access to, and sharing of information through e-Government platforms are essential in empowering citizens to know, understand and appreciate e-public services. However, absence of a legislative framework to guide and facilitate the access and sharing of information can have adverse effects on the success of e-Government in that citizens, the private sector and others who are interested may face difficulties in knowing the information that they can access, where they can access it and how to use and share it. Much the same difficulty can be experienced by public servants who may lack guidance on what information to put up onto the platforms for access and sharing, how often it should be updated, which of it should be archived. From another perspective, public servants will be fraught when dealing with requests for information relating to access to e-public administration and services resulting from absence of legislative guidance. The end result will be deepening information asymmetries. While there is need for discourse on the role of technology in facilitating access to public administration and services equally is the necessity to reflect on the effectiveness of e-Government especially where laws facilitating access to information are lacking.

The enactment of Freedom of Information (FOI) not only facilitates access and sharing of information through e-Government platforms. Mayer-Schönberger and Lazer (2007) remind us that information is essential to the governance process. This therefore denotes that information is the foundation on which e-Government is built. Batista and Cornock (2009) observe that the legal rights of access to information which FOI brings about exist in e-Government in that for “the government, they represent an opportunity to improve transparency and democratic processes by providing information to the public, enabling citizens to register their views on public issues, and allowing the voices of citizens to be heard by each other, by politicians, and by public servants.” FOI therefore enables government to facilitate information access and sharing “where the means of communication are increasingly expanding to the Internet and mobile technologies” (Batista & Cornock, 2009).

Amos et al. (2008) conducted a study which, among other things, aimed at understanding the benefits of FOI. From this study, a sizeable number of respondents indicated that successful enactment of FOI culminates in increased openness, transparency and accountability, and improves overall business processes. Further, successful enactment of the FOI creates a citizenry which become external experts who can evaluate the effect which government information used in decision-making is likely to create (MacNeil, 1992; Birkinshaw, 2001) Thus FOI enable citizens to understand and participate in public policy debates better informed and are better able validate government’s activities (Sebina, 2006). Within the framework of FOI, citizens have the liberty to take their governments to task so that they can disclose the information they generate in their day-to-day business processes. Lor and Britz (2007) have observed that governments have a duty to develop and maintain appropriate infrastructure that would facilitate the access to information. They further note that FOI has a role in the production of knowledge a key determinant of the knowledge society which Botswana intends to achieve through NDP 10.

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