LAWYERS, human rights groups and opposition parties have expressed fears that the report by the commission of inquiry into the post-election violence in which the military allegedly killed six civilians will never be made public after Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said the report was meant for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s eyes “only”.
BY OBEY MANAYITI/EVERSON MUSHAVA
Charamba was quoted by the State-controlled media on Monday saying Mnangagwa had the discretion to make the report public or not, but experts said such utterances defeat the constitutional spirit of transparency and accountability.
In September, Mnangagwa appointed a seven-member commission, led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe to probe the killings. The commission concluded its hearings last week and gave Mnangagwa an executive summary of its findings last Thursday while a full report will be presented ‘before December 19.’
“Members of the public entertained a reasonable expectation that results will be made public. The President is obliged to do so because of public expectations,” lawyer Alec Muchadehama said, adding that although the commission of inquiries Act is silent on what the President can do with the findings of the commission, the rule of law advocates for due process and, therefore, there should be finality to any process.
“Section 62 gives citizens some rights to information. The citizens have the right to information held by the State for public accountability purposes. Even the media has the right to know. Section 5 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act also gives people the right to information. Even under international best practices, the people have the right to know the outcome of a process they participated in.”
Muchadehama said the Commission of Inquiries Act was a colonial relic which contradicts the new Constitution’s right to information. He said it does not say whether or not the President must keep the outcome of an inquiry, but due to people’s reasonable expectations, Mnangagwa was obliged to release the report.
“There are already questions surrounding the Chihambakwe report (the report on inquiry into the Gukurahundi atrocities of the 1980s), Mnangagwa should try to earn the public’s confidence by making it public or this will satisfy our suspicion that the inquiry was an international public relations gimmick.” he said.
Kudakwashe Hove, another lawyer, said Charamba’s statements were a threat to the people’s right to access to information as enshrined in the Constitution.
“People died and information in the public interest and public good should be disclosed. Even if the Commission of Inquiry Act can give Mnangagwa such right, the Act will be ultra vires the Constitution because it denies people the right to information granted in the supreme law,” Hove said.
“Even principles of good governance call for transparency. The Motlanthe Commission was paid using taxpayers’ money. If Mnangagwa keeps the findings, a person who does not have any relative who was killed on August 1, what will the people whose relatives died think? Will this bring closure to the issue?”
He said Zimbabwe should never allow a situation where reports were kept, saying such practice has denied closure to the Gukurahundi atrocities.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director Blessing Gorejena said in the constitutional spirit of openness, Mnangagwa was mandated to make the findings public. Gorejena said they were shocked by Charamba’s statement, describing it as “out of tune” because Mnangagwa promised to make the outcome of the inquiry public when he set up the commission.
She said everyone, more importantly the victims, have the right to know the contents of the report.
Opposition MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume said they did not agree that the report was for Mnangagwa’s eyes only “because people were shot in public with everyone seeing, the commission has done its inquiry in the full glare of the public and everyone knows what was said and how it was said”.
“It is an act of futility and dereliction of duty for Mnangagwa to try and shelf this report like other reports such as those on Gukurahundi. We cannot have a situation where public funds are used for one person to see only, public funds are for everyone, so we do not agree.”
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition’s Thulani Mswelanto said it was unfortunate that the State continued to fund commissions of inquiries using public funds, but the public never gets to know the contents, challenging Mnangagwa to observe values of good governance such as transparency and accountability.
Combined Harare Residents’ Association executive director Mfundo Mlilo said there was no way the report could be for Mnangagwa’s eyes alone.
“The August 1 report is a national report and must be published as soon as it is practicable. If they wanted a private report, why did they make public consultations? There is no other reason why the report could be made private other than to deny Zimbabweans the truth of the August 1 events,” Mlilo said.
Vendors Initiative for Socio-Economic Transformation (VISET)’s Samuel Wadzai whose members were hugely affected by the shootings said if the President wanted to make the findings private, then it was wrong to hold public hearings.
Human Rights Watch director for Southern Africa Dewa Mavhinga said in the spirit of openness, the findings must be made public.