Groups Call on Zimbabwe to Prove More Transparency

1 October 2015

Human rights groups on Sept. 28 called the government to enact a new access to information law.

Media Consultant and former journalist, Rashweat Mukundu, said, “The government is still operating with a twenty century mentality in the 21st century hence the lack of access to government information,” according to a lengthy article on RadioVOP by Sij Ncube.

His and other remarks were made at a Right to Know Day commemoration in Harare.

The demands for more openness from Robert Mugabe’s administration “comes as concerned citizens continue seeking answers on the whereabouts of disappeared activists, such as Itai Dzamara, and Patrick Nabanyana,” the report says.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees the right to access information held by the state in so far as the information is required for the exercise or protection of a right. “But despite the statute, Mugabe’s administration continues to be very secretive even on mundane issues such as who borrowed what from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe,” according to the article.

AFIC Report Critical

Zimbabwe’s lack of transparency also was discussed in a chapter a new report by the African Freedom of Information Centre. The chapter written by Nhlanhla Ngwenya concluded:

While the country’s constitution explicitly guarantees citizens the right of access to information, which right is also enunciated in the Access to Information of Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), access to information in the country remains practically impossible. The law itself imposes bureaucratic and cumbersome processes that citizens have to contend with before they can access information held by public bodies, defeating the standard purpose of having such a law, which is to make the government more open and accountable. Besides, there are other laws that broadly classify information held by state bodies, thereby prohibiting their publication. With such Acts and evident lack of political will to promote free flow of information, Zimbabwe’s ratification of the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and its enactment of domestic laws on anti–corruption will remain a symbolic gesture that is simply meant to cast the country as belonging to a league of nations anchored on the rule of law, transparent and accountable governance.

The AFIC report’s recommendations begin, “Because corruption flourishes in information darkness, it is critical that Zimbabwe extensively amends or repeals its access to information law so that it is in line with the constitution and modelled along international standards on promoting the right to know.”

Other Calls for Access

Similarly, the RadioVOP article describes several efforts by activists to obtain information, observing, “Laws such as the Official Secrets Act, AIPPA, Interception of Communications Act and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) have wide restrictions that could be used to conceal information in violation of the Right to Know.”

The article says “the government’s very-own-sanctioned Information and Media Panel of Inquiry’s 2014 report which recommends that:

“AIPPA should be repealed and replaced with a law that specifically provides for access to information with ample provisions for protecting this right …”

A statement by the Media Institute of South Africa – Zimbabwe states:

 MISA-Zimbabwe is therefore greatly concerned with the deafening silence pertaining to progress in implementing the envisaged media, access to information, freedom of expression policy and legislative reforms.

 Fundamentally, the Constitution emphasises that all public institutions must be governed by principles which include timely provision of accurate information to the public. This has not been the case because of the cumbersome processes pertaining to accessing information under AIPPA.

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association also urged more transparency, saying:

The Rights to Know means that citizens are entitled to access government information, which often has a bearing on their civil, political, cultural and socioeconomic rights. A culture of secrecy, impunity, unaccountability and lack of transparency is perpetuated through the violation of the Right to Know,” read part of its statement.

Secrecy is the fertile ground for the violation of citizens’ fundamental human rights through concealment of acts of commission, or omission by the government, or its agencies.

The concealment has been in spite of the fact that the information may have been relevant to the protection and restoration of citizens’ human dignity. The Right to Know has usually been ignored under the pretexts of protection of national interest and security.

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