Research regulations challenged in court

June 2, 2015, 8:56am
Image courtesy aera.net

Research regulations challenged in court

The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Namibia Non-Governmental Organisations’ Forum (Nangof) have taken the legal route to challenge the proposed research regulations in the country.
The regulations which will prohibit unauthorised research studies to be conducted in Namibia have been delayed by a court case lodged against the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST).
Local researchers argue that the proposed regulations to be added to the Research, Science and Technology Act of 2004 and which were proposed in 2011, prohibit so much as a student from conducting a study for educational purposes or credits, and thus has not been implemented yet.
According to the new proposed regulations, any organisation or individual who conducts any activity which could be termed as research should apply to the government-appointed NCRST for permission to conduct such research.
In terms of the regulations, any research institute or research student may not proceed with conducting any form of research in the country unless they have registered with the commission.
Last year, meetings were held by the affected parties with the Minister of Education and members of the NCRST, but there has been no concrete commitment or change made to the legislation or regulations.
This was ongoing from the beginning of 2012 until earlier 2014, hence the case was taken to court.
NCRST’s Public Relations Officer Elzita Beukes said their response is that the matter is sub judice as it is with their legal representatives.
“Concerning the court case or application by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) – it is with our legal representatives, and our response is that the matter is sub judice,” she reiterated.
Beukes did not mince her words when she affirmed that as far as they are concerned, the regulations are practical, adding that the position of the NCRST is that the Act and the Regulations do not contradict the constitution.
In terms of the regulations, every research project would require its own distinct permission.
According to the Act, failure to gain such permission could result in a N$20 000 fine or five years in jail, and an undetermined prohibition on conducting further research in the country.
The Act was initially under the Ministry of Education, but had to be governed under the NCRST as there was no Higher Education Institution (HEI) to govern the Act and implement the regulations which come with it.
Beukes reaffirmed the position of the NCRST regarding the Act, citing that it is a new entity, which has set certain timeframes to reach certain goals.  
She added that it is a new phase in the legal regime in this area pertaining to research, science, technology & innovation, saying there are numerous stakeholders involved whose scope and interests differ.  
“The aim of the NCRST is to involve, keep involved and move with all relevant stakeholders.  As far as the regulations are concerned, they are part of the law and are on the law books,” Beukes noted.
However, LAC Director Toni Hancox shared Beukes’ sentiments that at this point, the matter is before court and should not really be commented on until such time as it has been heard.  
“The LAC’s stance on this issue is apparent from our previous pronouncements made, which have been reported in various fora,” Hancox said.
Whether the research is privately-funded or government- funded, it would still be illegal to conduct it without permission.
Definitions of a ‘research institute’ or a person doing research are extremely broad, and would affect a wide variety of persons, ranging from doctors, academics, reporters, even a child doing a school project. In addition, the application procedure is also very onerous.

by Charmaine Ngatjiheue