Information Bill not in tandem with Constitution: MISA

BY FARAI MATIASHE

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe chapter has said the Freedom of Information Bill is not in tandem with the Constitution and should be revised before it is made into law.

The Bill is currently before Parliament and the Prince Dubeko Sibanda-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information is in the process of gathering contributions from the public and other stakeholders.

Misa Zimbabwe chairperson Golden Maunganidze said his organisation, with the support of freedom of expression organisations from around the globe, including
Norwegian PEN, Pacific Islands News Association, PEN America, Pakistan Press Foundation and Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, among others,
were concerned that the current version of the Bill did not reflect the provisions of Sections 61 (1) (a) and 62 of the 2013 Constitution.

“(Those Sections) provide for the right of access to information. At the continental level, the Bill does not currently live up to the Model Law on Access to
Information for Africa that provides guidance on the principles of a democratic information law,” he said.

“Problematic provisions that had remained in the current version of the Bill include, but are not limited to, Section 6(a) of the Bill which protects
deliberations and functions of Cabinet and its committees. There is no provision for declassification of information that relates to deliberations and
functions of Cabinet and its committees. Section 7 of the Bill only deals with access to information held by public entities and is silent on requests from
private entities. Section 7(1) of the Bill makes no provision for verbal requests for information. Written requests exclude the illiterate and visually
impaired.”

Misa Zimbabwe called for the expansion of Section 7 of the Bill to include requests for access to information held by private entities and to include a
provision for the lodging of verbal requests for information in any of Zimbabwe’s recognised languages, as listed in Section 6(1) of the Constitution.
Maunganidze said verbal responses must be given if requested, in addition to a written response to the request for information, adding that verbal responses
must be in a local language that the applicant could understood.

He said a fixed time period must be reintroduced, beyond which records and information relating to deliberations and functions of Cabinet and its committees
may be declassified and shared.

Maunganidze said it was the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and not the Zimbabwe Media Commission which should be the appropriate guardian of human rights in
Zimbabwe, including the right to access information.

“The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission’s mandate will allow it to interpret the right to access information in a significantly wider context than the ZMC and it
should, therefore, be given the task of overseeing the protection and promotion of the right to access information in Zimbabwe,” he said.

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