…Says Lack of Information Breeds Distrust, Poses Threat to Peace, Security Former Chairperson, Electoral Commission of South Africa, Ms Pansy Tlakula says that access to information and freedom of expression are germane to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. “The role of the right of access to information in fostering good governance, transparency,
…Says Lack of Information Breeds Distrust, Poses Threat to Peace, Security
Former Chairperson, Electoral Commission of South Africa, Ms Pansy Tlakula says that access to information and freedom of expression are germane to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
“The role of the right of access to information in fostering good governance, transparency, accountability and responsiveness cannot be overemphasised. Access to information is a cross cutting right which underpins the enjoyment of other rights, in particular social, economic and other political rights such as the right to vote,” she contends.
Delivering the keynote address at the West Africa Media Excellence Conference and Awards (WAMECA) holding in Accra, Ghana, Tlakula, also a former chairperson, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), argues that “The lack of information at all stages of the electoral process breeds distrust and lack of confidence in the process, which often poses a threat to peace, security and stability.”
“Elections can only be free, fair and credible if the electorate has access to accurate, credible and reliable information at all stages of the electoral process. Without information on a broad range of issues prior, during and after elections, the electorate cannot exercise their right to vote meaningfully.”
“The elements of the right of participation in political and public affairs include the right to vote and to be elected, the right to be consulted about public affairs and the right to be appointed to the public service. This right can only be fully realised if it is enjoyed with other rights such as the right of access to information, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly and association, the right to equality and equal protection of the law and the right to privacy,” the former South African Electoral Chair says.
Attempting some historical excursion, Tlakula who was a member of ACHPR since 2010 before being appointed chairperson in 2015, recalls that, upon realising the absence of a regional standard on access to information in elections in Africa, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights adopted Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa in 2017.
“These Guidelines provide guidance on access to information in the electoral process as a means of strengthening democratic governance in Africa. The foundational principle of the Guidelines is that all key stakeholders involved in the electoral process must proactively disclose election related public information they hold without being requested to do so.
“The Guidelines require the following key stakeholders involved in the election to proactively disclose public information in order to enhance the credibility and transparency of the electoral process: Authorities responsible for appointing the Election Management Bodies, Election Management Bodies (EMBs), Political Parties and Candidates, Law Enforcement Agencies, Election Observers and Monitors, Media and online Media Platforms Providers, Media Regulatory Bodies and Civil Society Organisations.
“The Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa are the first to be developed globally and admonish the State Parties to the African Charter to incorporate them into their national laws,” she reveals
According to Tlakula, who holds a bachelors and masters degrees in Law from the University of Witswatersrand and Harvard University respectively, “The right of participation in political and public affairs is one of the rights entrenched in a number of international and regional human rights instruments.”
At international level, the right is provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which also provides for the right of participation in political and public affairs.
On the African Continent, this right is entrenched in a number of African Union human rights instruments which include the Constitutive Act of the African Union, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (African Charter), the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. (Democracy Charter), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the African Youth Charter and the African Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (Convention on Corruption).
Also alluding to the impact of technology on elections in Africa, Tlakula, who’s now chairperson of the Information Regulator of South Africa, says, “The much talked about Fourth Industrial Revolution is embedding technology in all aspects of society in a way that has not been experienced before, including in the electoral process.”
“There is no doubt that emerging technological innovation is beginning to make a contribution to the economies of a number of countries on the Continent in general and is also improving the efficiency, effectiveness and convenience of the electoral process.”
She however says, “there is a need to reflect on the intersection between technological innovation and participatory governance, particularly as they relate to free, fair and credible elections.”
“In this regard, it is important to reflect in particular, on how the use of technology in the electoral process impacts positively or negatively on human rights such as the right to peaceful, free, fair and credible elections, the right of access to information, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy amongst others,” Tlakula posits, stressing that “the discourse on the rights based approach to democratic elections on the African Continent has so far not included the importance of the right to privacy, in particular data privacy, in the electoral process. The reason for this might be the non recognition of the right to privacy in the African Charter.”
However, data privacy is provided for in the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Data Protection (Convention), which was adopted by the African Union in 2014. The Convention recognises the interrelationship between right of access to information and the right to privacy as it relates to the protection of personal data. This interrelationship is aptly reflected in the preamble to the Convention which stipulates that:
“…the protection of personal data and private life constitutes a major challenge to the Information Society for governments as well as other stakeholders; and that such protection requires a balance between the use of information and communication technologies and the protection of the privacy of citizens in their daily or professional lives, while guaranteeing the free flow of information,” she further explains.