Some journos reserved over EMA golden key on MISA transparency index

By Nhau Mangirazi

CHINHOYI– Journalists from different media houses in Mashonaland West have reservations on Environmental Management Agency (EMA) as the most open institution in Zimbabwe.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe) s 2020 Transparency Assessment survey gave EMA thumps up as the most open institution, being active on social media and maintaining a “partially” up to date website.

Although the institution was unable to provide information that had been requested, they explained their reasons.

Chitungwiza Municipality did not respond to the requests for information.

The survey noted that a senior official stated that they did not receive the request and recommended that the requests be resubmitted through email.

Chipinge Rural District Council, Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, Ministry of Health and Child Care, Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Mutare City Council and Zimbabwe School Examinations Council were among other organizations surveyed.

In Chinhoyi, journalists had their own resentments on the outcome.

The journalists said EMA has ‘failed to avail critical information’ when it is most needed for the public right to know.

One of the journalists said, ‘‘The outcomes of the survey can be disputed as the national environment degradation by mostly Chinese miners falls under EMA’s desk. Our efforts as media to be watchdogs and cross check facts to write credible stories have been grossly affected by EMA lack of response on time. This carries away the golden key award for openness that EMA got,’

Others from both state controlled and private media expressed the same sentiments.

James Muonwa who writes for NewZimbabwe.com said the challenges faced by journalists from state controlled media was cutting across everywhere.

Muonwa said, ‘Accessing information on time has become a challenge as we work on deadlines. As much as EMA was given the golden key on openness, we have reservations as they have not be doing the best of what is expected from a public institution,’ 

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Regional) started conducting research and in 2009 aimed at establishing difficulties that Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) citizens face to access public information.

The study is also part of commemorations for the International Day for Universal Access to Information which is marked every year on 28 September.

It also based on the findings of assessments on whether public institutions proactively make relevant information available online in the form of websites or social media accounts.

The survey assesses to what degree information is made obtainable to citizens upon request.

However, the global pandemic of the COVID-19 restrictions, affected testing the new Freedom of Information Act and survey all organizations as originally planned.

It was noted that that the culture and practice of acknowledging receipt of information requests, as opposed to providing the information sought, is still a challenge in some organizations.

‘‘Targeted institutions do not always notify the requester when they receive the information request letter, but only acknowledge receipt upon physical follow-up visits to their offices,’ noted the survey report.

MISA Zimbabwe encourages organizations to effectively use online platforms to disseminate information to the public while the new law on access to information, the Freedom of Information Act, should be continuously evaluated to ensure it gives effect to Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution that provide for freedom of expression, media freedom and citizens’ right to access to information.

Regionally, parallel studies were conducted in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia.