Chapter 1: Background to the study
Freedom of information (FOI) has acquired increasing societal importance in recent years: records management is a longer established discipline but its public profile is low. This study seeks to situate FOI in Botswana. In order to do this effectively, the study also seeks to uncover the relationships that exist between records management and FOI legislation. In examining FOI and in revealing these relationships, the study draws on comparative experiences gained from Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK). At the centre of the comparisons is Botswana, a country which as at 2006 has not adopted FOI legislation and indications are that this is far from imminent.1 The comparisons will help the author to appraise Botswana’s current approach to the provision of access to information and thereby determine whether the country needs FOI legislation or whether it can make do with the procedures it has. The comparisons will also enable a better understanding of whether the country’s current approach to the management of public sector records is sufficient in aiding access to information or is in need of reform. FOI literature generally assumes that records management exists and works to facilitate access to information. The literature rarely touches on the efficacy of FOI legislation where records management is weak and failing to maintain accountability in a polity. However, some of the literature assumes that FOI legislation has the necessary re-engineering capacities to make records management work. Undoubtedly, a belief arises from this literature, and from the shared experience of professionals in the field, that records management is essential for effective FOI legislation. Another viewpoint suggests that FOI legislation can lead to improvements in records management. Underlying both is the notion that records management and FOI legislation may share some relationships which make one important to the other. FOI legislation is important to both citizens and government irrespective of the state of 1
Botswana Government The Presidential Task Group Long term vision for Botswana: towards prosperity for all: Vision 2016 (Gaborone: Government Printer, 1997): 34 and 69.
records management, and records management is also important whether or not FOI legislation has been promulgated. However, any effective FOI scheme will benefit tremendously from good records management, and FOI is likely to show up weaknesses in the management of records.
1.2 Records management and freedom of information: a preface 1.2.1 Importance of records
All organisations, public or private, rely on records in their daily operations. Records are the corporate memory of organisations in that they support daily business undertakings, facilitate decision making and policy formulation, and are in themselves a part of an organisation’s endeavour to carry out its business.2 Records provide information and evidence of the functions carried out and are thus critical to protecting organisations and their interests during litigation and other legal challenges; enabling them to conform with accountability requirements, and comply with the prescriptions of all government statutes including access to information.3 Roberts of the State Records Authority in New South Wales in Australia identified three domains in which records are essential.4 These domains are: The business domain: organisations create and maintain records to support their daily business needs and expectations. Planning the direction which a certain business process has to follow relies on records, and executing these plans results in the creation of more records and further reliance on those already in existence; recruiting and retaining employees to facilitate expected business processes requires the creation and maintenance of records. In fact, almost everything that an organisation does relies...
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