Experiences from the research
Public officials, who in past years had been hostile to citizens when they requested information, have become friendlier but still place barriers to citizens trying to access information. For example, in some instances, there were no public relations departments to deal with information request; citizens are referred from one department to another before they are handled by the appropriate department. In the past, however, they would even refuse to entertain letters or telephone calls requesting for information. At present, letters are accepted and sent to the Registry Department, which will forward requests to the permanent secretary or CEO for consideration.
Public institutions were characterised by inefficiencies and were therefore unable to respond timeously to handwritten letters. This is unacceptable considering that most of the Zimbabwean population is rural and not necessarily connected to the internet. Some institutions did not even see the handwritten letters, which were submitted to their offices, and only responded to questions after follow-up phone calls. The institutions then requested an electronic letter with the same questions before they referred us to other departments to receive the information.
In some instances, public institutions made requests to citizens that are not provided for by the AIPPA. These were arbitrary requests whose effect was to frustrate the citizen. The Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services for example, requested for the citizen’s background information before they would respond to the letter. The law does not provide for such questioning before an information request is granted.
The information request process was therefore characterised by inefficiency and frustrating tactics. However, there was no hostility.
Summary of key findings
Category 1: Website analysis
- Most websites were poorly managed.
- The content was not regularly updated.
- Critical information, such as explanations of procedures on how to obtain information, was not available.
- Some websites generated error messages at times (BAZ, POTRAZ).
- Some websites were not mobile-friendly.
- Messages sent through the websites were not replied to.
Category 2: Requests for information
- Most institutions failed to provide written responses.
- The BAZ moved from their premises but the address left at the Media Commission of Zimbabwe is not valid.
- The MIMBS made demands that are not provided for in the AIPPA.
- Entry to the OPC was restricted.
- Most institutions responded only to telephone questions after failing to respond to letters.
- Researchers were asked by both the PSC and the PoZ to rewrite letters or to seek the information elsewhere.
- Departments are ill-equipped to receive hard copies of information requests. The ZEC asked the researcher to email the request.
- None of the institutions responded to electronic messages submitted via their websites.
- In several instances, the lack of clear structures of responsibility led to the researcher being referred from one office to another in some instances. At the ZRP and the PoZ, the researcher was asked to address the letter to other offices in order to obtain the information.
Source: MISA Zimbabwe