BY VENERANDA LANGA
THE Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Zimbabwe has criticised the gazetted Freedom of Information Bill, which will soon be brought before Parliament for failing to incorporate views from civil society organisations.
In their analysis of the Freedom of Information Bill this week, Misa said despite provisions in section 61 and 62 of the Constitution, which give rights to access to information, the Bill in its current state failed to give rights to access information and was, therefore, regressive.
The Freedom of Information Bill is supposed to replace the unpopular Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), which was condemned as oppressive.
But it appears that the draft Bill discussed by the Information ministry and stakeholders in December 2018 and March 2019 has been changed.
“Few of the recommendations submitted by civil society and other activists were incorporated into the gazetted Bill,” Misa said.
“This shatters government’s narrative that this Bill is the result of a valid, wide and balanced consultative process.”
Misa said while the Bill will protect access to information on trade secrets which is reasonable, it has unjustifiable limitations for a democratic society, whereby, it restricts access to information on government borrowings.
Civic society organisations and Parliament has been pushing for transparency in government borrowings to protect Zimbabweans from being forced to assume debts that they will be made to pay through taxes.
Examples of such assumed debts include the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Act and the Ziscosteel Debt Assumption Act.
In the original ministerial draft of the Freedom of Information Bill, it was stipulated that the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission will oversee the enjoyment of the right to access of information by Zimbabweans.
However, Misa was surprised to find that in the gazetted Bill the powers to oversee the enjoyment of the right to information have been given to the Zimbabwe Media Commission.
“The right to access information applies to everyone and goes beyond the media fraternity. Misa Zimbabwe contends that placing the administration of such an important right under a commission dedicated specifically to the promotion of media freedoms and rights will narrow the exercise and enjoyment of the right to access information,” they said.
Misa also feels that there is no justification in the gazetted Bill to restrict access to information to written format only as it will unjustifiably inhibit the visually-impaired and illiterate from seeking for information.
They said the Bill now stipulates that information must be requested in writing while the original draft had also said oral requests should be accepted.
Misa added that allowing a miscellaneous fee to be charged when seeking information is another drawback that will ultimately inhibit the right to access information because of costs of photocopying, research fees and other fees that might be charged.