Some Bulawayo residents say they do not know much about the Freedom of Information Act which came into force over a year ago. The Freedom of Information Bill was signed into law by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in July 2020, replacing the much-criticised Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
The Act states that any persons who wish to request access to information from any public entity, public commercial entity or the holder of a statutory office in accordance with the rights granted under the act may apply in writing in a prescribed manner to an information officer of the public entity, public commercial entity or holder of a statutory office concerned.
However, there were concerns on the need for appeals relating to denial of information requests to be lodged with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), or a competent court of law, and not with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) as its constitutional mandate is on media regulation.
In an interview with CITE, some residents said they are not conversant with the new law. “I am not aware of the Freedom of Information Act,” said one resident, Sakhile Ndlovu.
Another resident, Denzil Sibanda said he only knows that it is an act that seeks to ensure that citizens are informed. “Also I know that people have the right to access information in the state records, though I am not aware of the exemptions for now,” said Denzil Sibanda.
Another resident, Bongani Tshuma said in as far as the freedom of information act is concerned, he only knows that there is a law called the freedom of information act which is part of the laws that replace AIPPA.
“But as to what is contained in that act: I will be lying to you to say I know what exactly is contained in the freedom of information act, All I know is that our constitution provides for the freedom of information, I think it is not necessarily the freedom of information but the freedom of the media which is in section 61, then the freedom of information is also provided for I can’t remember the section, but really as to what that act says, I will be lying to you to say I know,” said Tshuma.
Political analyst, Effie Ncube said the Freedom of Information Act is an important law in terms of enabling the public to hold the government accountable and to defend their rights.
“It is an extension of the provisions of the constitution in respect of access to information where the constitution says the public can access information held by the government and private institutions if that information is necessary for public accountability and the promotion of a legal right, so that is a very important law,” said Ncube.
He said the law can enable people to access information that they need to hold the government accountable. “People must educate themselves about this important law so that they can then use its provisions to empower themselves, it will give them power over the government though it is not going to transform the Government of Zimbabwe into a democratic institution,” he said.
Ncube added that this is a step that people can use to ensure accountability, open up society, and defend their rights. “Access to information is a critical tool for citizens, it enables them to advance their agenda, to know what the government is doing, and to force the government to disclose certain information that is necessary for citizens to hold the government accountable.”
“It is important for citizens to use that particular act to know more about how money is being used and to hold the government accountable to the highest standards of fiscal discipline,” he said.
Ncube also noted that it is important for people to use that act to even access documents like the Chihambakwe Commission report that investigated the Gukurahundi atrocities, “people can approach the courts and compel the state to release information around issues of Gukurahundi, Operation Murambatsvina and other things where human rights violations took place.”
Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology