Harare, Zimbabwe (PANA) - Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe says the Freedom of Information Bill fails to give effect to the spirit of the right to access information found in Section 62 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
The Freedom of Information Bill, gazetted last Friday, is one of three bills meant to replace the much-criticized Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the AIPPA) and Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
“When passed into law, the Freedom of Information Bill is meant to effect the access to information provisions enshrined in Sections 61 and 62 of the 2013 Zimbabwe Constitution. Section 3(a) of the Bill reflects this when it states that one object of the Bill is “to give effect to the right to access information in accordance with the Constitution…" Unfortunately, despite this noble declaration, the Bill in its current state fails to give effect to either the letter or spirit of the right to access information found in Section 62 of the Constitution,” MISA said in a statement reaching PANA.
“The Bill is regressive when compared to the previous draft version of the Bill shared with and discussed by stakeholders during engagement meetings held by the Ministry of Information Media and Broadcasting Services in December 2018 and March 2019. In fact, it is a total departure from most of the positions agreed upon between the ministry and media stakeholders.”
MISA said the ministerial draft Bill circulated by the ministry closely resembled the African Union’s Model Law on Access to Information; however, the gazetted Bill had similarities with the draconian AIPPA.
“Few of the recommendations submitted by civil society and other access to information activists were incorporated into the gazetted Bill. This shatters government’s narrative that this Bill is the result of a valid, wide, and balanced consultative process,” MISA said.
AIPPA is the omnibus law that currently caters for access to information, protection of personal information and regulation of the media that has been very restrictive against international best practices.
POSA is a law that is also draconian as it gives untold powers to the police and is largely considered the reason behind former President Robert Mugabe’s repressive regime. Its replacement, the Maintenance of Peace and Order (MOPA) Bill, already gazetted, is before parliament.
In April, local legal think tank Veritas described MOPA as “the same old wine in the same old bottle with a new label stuck on it” as police would still have the same far reaching powers found in POSA.
Veritas went a step further to say MOPA might have actually extended the powers of the police.
Commenting on the Freedom of Information Bill, MISA said: “This Bill will set procedures for Zimbabwean citizens and permanent residents to access information held by public institutions. It also deals with procedures for the accessing of information held by any person and private entities if such information is necessary for the exercise and protection of a right. It also puts in place voluntary mechanisms of disclosing data and information controlled by public institutions.”
"Private institutions, on the other hand, have the discretion to voluntarily disclose any information within their control. This means the right to access information will apply differently to citizens and differently to non-residents and non-citizens. Yet the right to access information is a fundamental right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and must, therefore, be applied equally to all people,” MISA said.
MISA is a non-governmental organisation with members in 11 of the SADC countries and is based within the region. MISA promotes the free flow of information and co-operation among media workers, as a principal means of nurturing democracy and human rights in Africa.
-0- PANA TZ/RA 7Jul2019