A recent speech by Namibia's Minister of Information, Joel Kaapanda, highlights the fact that he doesn't know what he ahs talking about, writes Gwen Lister in the Namibian. It highlights the fact that the ministry is simply a waste of time and taxpapers' money, and should be closed down.

Gwen Lister writes in her column, Political Perspective, in the Namibian:

IT too much to ask that Government Ministers know what they are talking
about? Better still, that they be well versed in matters pertinent to
the Ministry they head? Because the Minister of Information, Joel
Kaapanda, really incensed me with a recent speech he made and in which
he took a holier-than-thou approach to the media when he’s plainly
still not very knowledgeable about this institution.

He is seriously in danger of alienating the very people he claims to want to work with.

It once again illustrates, to me at least, the total redundancy of
Ministries of ‘Information’, for they know not really what they should
be doing! These may have had despotic relevance in the days of
one-party states when they controlled all the media in existence, but
in a democracy, they simply don’t belong, and they’re muddled and
confused about their brief as a result of this.

But back to the
Minister: I won’t go into everything he said, but some of the items
warrant highlighting. Among others that politicians are not ‘allergic’
to the media, but welcome constructive criticism! I hope my column
calling for the total abolition of the Information Ministry will be
seen in that light! He added that the closure of the Open Line and Chat
Show programmes on NBC should “not be seen as a means to stifle freedom
of expression” but necessary steps to maintain peace and stability.
(Nothing to do with criticism of politicians, I’m sure!)

he goes on to advocate, like all his predecessors before him, ‘that
media organisations should establish a code of ethics through the
creation of an enabling environment such as the media council’, but
fails to put this into the context of what the media are actually doing
in this regard. He described a media council as the ‘bridge between the
media and aggrieved citizens’. Isn’t the media in fact the bridge
between government and aggrieved citizens, which accounts for their
antipathy towards the chat shows and SMS pages?

And while he’s
about it, how about a code of ethics for Government itself? He also
‘urged the media to move away from sensational reporting which may
anger or excite the public and in so doing create a chaotic and
disorderly environment in the country’. So now it’s all our fault is
it? And heaven forbid we ‘excite’ people.

I ask of every taxpayer
in this country what the Ministry of Information has ever done for
them? Other Ministries at least provide some public service, however
questionable, like issuing birth certificates or passports like the
Ministry of Home Affairs, providing health services like the Ministry
of Health etc, but the Ministry of Information? What? Think about it.

if they have to be there, chewing up our hard-earned tax dollars, then
for heaven’s sake let them at least do their homework properly and
provide some public service, or scrap the damn thing and put the money
it costs to run that Ministry into housing for the poor, or better
health and education services for the really disadvantaged people of
our country!

In the current budget, this Ministry gets N$234
million. Their objectives include (and I quote from the budget lest
people think I’ve invented these): ensuring the media is accessible to
all Namibians; improving understanding of GRN activities and policies;
ensure the media sector produces benefits for the economy of Namibia
and increase the beneficial use of information communication
technology. How do they do this? Short answer: they don’t. They’re of
no assistance at all to the majority of media in this country. In fact
they approve of ‘bans’ on some, like ourselves. They do less than
nothing to facilitate understanding of ‘GRN activities’ because the
media do that for them. And they can’t even get most Government
officials to use e-mail, so how do they plan to make communication
technology more accessible?

Ministerial targets (also quoted in
the budget) include: ensure 70 per cent access to media and GRN
information by 2011/12; ensure six issues of Namibia Review and GRN
Information Bulletin are published every year (please don’t overwork
yourselves guys!); ensure 30 per cent of the population understand GRN
policies and programmes by 2011/12 (so its apparently taken the
Ministry nearly 20 years to get to 30 per cent!!); support seven
multi-purpose centres by 2011/12; and ‘attract’ three feature films per
year to benefit the local film and tourism industries by 2011/12! Like
the ‘Wavered’ fiasco, for example? And let’s not forget the
coffee-table book on the new State House they’ve produced! In short,
they have little to nothing to do, and their budget explanation is a
lot of waffle at best.

To conclude: I’ve had meetings with the
Minister in question and I’ve attended his one or two meetings with
media editors which were promised as monthly events but which have
fizzled out. I’ve invited him to visit our newspaper but he hasn’t,
probably because we’re prohibited territory to Government Ministers,
but I once again renew that invitation if he’d like to broaden his
knowledge of media institutions. In the absence of this, he mustn’t
pronounce on what he doesn’t know.

* This column first appeared in The Namibian on 27 March 2009. Lister is the editor of The Namibian,