Did you know that it is your fundamental right to seek, receive and access information? It’s a right protected internationally by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and locally by Section 62 of the Constitution. Here in Zimbabwe, the right is also enforceable through the recently gazetted Freedom of Information Act (you can read MISA Zimbabwe’s analysis of the Act here).
Breaking it down . . .
Who can access this right?
The Constitution explicitly states that: “Every Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident, including juristic persons and the Zimbabwean media” has the right to access information.
Who could I demand information from and when?
- For public accountability – access to any information held by the State or by any institution or agency of government at every level, as long as the information required is in the interests of public accountability. This includes things like information on government spending; management of resources; national plans and guidelines for managing national emergencies or development strategy and so on.
- To exercise or protect another right – access to any information held by any person, including the State, as long as the information is required for the exercise or protection of a right. This would include things like information on how to express your opinion about the Constitutional Amendments Bill; where and how to register to vote; when and where to get tested for Covid-19 etc.
- To correct personal information – citizens also have the right to the correction of information, and the deletion of untrue, erroneous or misleading information, which is held by the State or any institution or agency of the government at any level, and which relates to that person.
But so what. Does it matter?
Absolutely – the exercise of this right is fundamental to a functional democracy. Independently verifiable information increases transparency, enables accountability, builds citizen capacity and helps fight misinformation. Importantly, as MISA points out, access to information allows citizens to “exercise other crucial rights such as the right to vote, the right to a clean and healthy environment and the right to make informed choices.”
How do I make an application to access information?
While duty bearers are obliged by law to disclose information of public interest anyway, it is also every Zimbabwean’s right and responsibility to lobby for information when official channels are not forthcoming. This can be done through approaching a duty bearer directly (your councillor or MP for example) or, as per the procedure outlined in the Freedom of Information Act, in writing to the information holders. Provided there is no legal or ethical reason to withhold that information, a written response to the application should be provided within 48 hours.
Who’s championing this right at the moment?
National Debt and Foreign Loans – Harare North MP Allan Markham
The 30th of January marked an important deadline for Mthuli Ncube and the GoZ: the date by which the Ministry of Finance was to have published details of its foreign loan agreements. So far, no publication has been made…
Covid-19 information – MISA Zimbabwe
On 21 January, 2021, the Ministries of Health and Child Care and Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, were ordered by the High Court to provide the public with information regarding the spread and management of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe that is “comprehensive and adequate.” It’s been 2+ weeks since the order was made. How do you think they’re doing? Do we know more about our Covid-19 situation now than we did before?
Road and Water Funding – Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights
On 2 February 2021, MIHR wrote to the City of Bulawayo requesting information on funding sources for road and water supply maintenance and management in the city. Bulawayo City Council responded to the letter from MIHR and have committed to responding (at least in part) to the questions in an Open Newsroom programme.
COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans – ZIMCODD / ZimRights
A few days ago, ZIMCODD asked Twimbos if they thought Government was doing enough in being transparent about its use of Covid-19 funds. The response was a resounding no. This information is critical for ensuring public confidence in the government’s Covid response strategy. ZIMCODD is tracking government expenditure of Covid resources – check it out here. On 3 February, 2021, ZLHR filed an urgent application on behalf of ZimRights to compel government to draw up and publish within 10 days, a National Deployment Vaccination Plan and to present a vaccines budget before Parliament. The High Court deemed the matter not urgent. This is an important one to watch as vaccines become a steadily more contentious issue globally.