Local Authorities Warned Against Witholding Vital Information

By Isabel Nyathi

Harare, April 29, 2014 – Officials who withhold important public  information  which is beneficial to citizens could be brought before the courts under access to information laws.

Speaking at a conference on access to information which was held in the capital on Monday, the Coordinator at Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ),Patience Zirima  said if information was adequately made available then people would be aware of their rights.

Zirima was speaking at a meeting organized by MAZ and the Combined Harare residents Association (CHRA).

“If we mention access to information people tend to think of media only but there is more to that,citizens need to access information from local authorities as well”, she said.

The information could range from water schedules, sewage treatment and all matters on service delivery.

However, it has been noted that officials in the local government tend to hold onto to information despite the provisions of section 62 of the constitution which stipulates that all citizens have a right to information.

A recent survey on “Right to Information Campaign” carried out by Media Alliance of Zimbabwe(MAZ) and Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), stipulated that only Harare and Bindura were in a position to present their 2014 budget to residents, out of the ten provinces.

It was alleged that Masvingo town council requested a fee $25 from those who tried to access the budget.

A representative from Simukai Residents Trust also alleged that some Goromonzi residents are being murdered simply because they demand clarity on distribution of land.

The meeting was also told that not only do the town clerks hold onto to information but they keep referring the residents to different offices where they usually get reffered back to the receptionists or plumbers.

On the contrary, Councillor Bango from Harare said people are afraid of requesting information but they make an effort of attaching important notices with monthly bills.

“We hold meetings in community halls but only a few people turn up but amongst those non of them request for information”, said Councillor Bango.

Some members from the Mutare, Masvingo, Bindura Residents Associations said the main reason for the fear is violence and threats which are made to those who request for information.

Almost all participants made it a point that they need to have a look at the contracts which are being given to Chinese firms as they are affecting their access to service delivery since many authorities claim that they struck a deal with them so as to make improvements

It was noted that residents in various local authorities should be made aware of their right of accessing information pertaining to any issue to do with their respective areas.