Citizens still struggle to access information from responsible authorities

While the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill into law has been lauded, certain loopholes with the piece of legislation still hinder citizens from accessing key information from the government, an analyst has said.

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).

Section 7 of 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.

Socio-economic analyst Tafadzwa Chikumbu told CITE that there are still gaps and loopholes which hinder citizens from accessing critical information from responsible authorities.

“The Government of Zimbabwe has made notable efforts in making legal strides to ensure adequate access to information by enforcing the Freedom of Information Act and its objects include to give effect to the right of access to information in accordance with the Constitution; and to establish voluntary and mandatory mechanisms or procedures to give effect to the right of access to information so as to facilitate swift, inexpensive and simple access to information; and to promote transparency, accountability and effective governance,” said Chikumbu.

He said it is still imperative to explore the intended benefits of legal instruments such as section 7 to the broader generality of Zimbabwe’s society.

“There are still gaps and loopholes which hinders citizens from accessing critical information from responsible authorities. Freedom of Information Act still has ground for refusal of access to information which is prone to abuse by those in power,” he said.

Chikumbu added that It is a norm in Zimbabwe that pieces of legislation are enacted to be in favour of those who enact them and depriving citizens of their right to access information.

“There is pertinent information which does not need to be requested by citizens but it needs to be in the public domain, information such as beneficial ownership, open contracting, public spending in terms of national debt for example the vaccine rollout. This kind of information is not yet accessible to the general public which shows that the right to access information is not yet being exercised in full,” he said.

“It is the government’s responsibility to promote and respect the right to access to information since it is a fundamental democratic right. Greater access to information increases the transparency of policymaking and governance. More informed citizens can participate more effectively in their nation’s democratic processes.”

Chikumbu said there is a thin line between protected information or confidential information and refusal of access is prone to abuse by the Government to retain pertinent information.

“In as much as the Act is meant to assist citizens to seek and receive information concerning public finances, that information has been difficult for citizens to access,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Political analyst, Effie Ncube recently 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.

He said the law is a step that people can use to ensure accountability, open up society, and defend their rights.

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