Media, Rights Lobbyists Slam Govt Over Access To Information Hurdles

By Professor Matodzi

Harare, 28 September, 2015 – Media and human rights lobbyists have allocated poor marks to President Robert Mugabe’s governments for imposing severe hurdles that hinder citizens from accessing information in the country.

In various assessment statements issued Monday to mark International Right to Know Day, which is commemorated on 28 September each year, the human rights and media lobby groups criticised the government for keeping a veil of secrecy on critical information that citizens should access in order to make key and informed decisions in their lives.

The human rights groups were unanimous on the need for the government to enact a new democratic information law to replace the existing Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

“Section 62 of the Constitution, which provides for access to information, clearly states that legislation must be enacted to give effect to the right to information. This is further buttressed by the government’s very-own-sanctioned Information and Media Panel of Inquiry’s 2014 report……..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,” reads part of a statement issued by MISA Zimbabwe.

The International Right To Know Day, which is commemorated annually on 28 September, is set aside to raise awareness on the right to access information held by government and other entities to foster transparent and accountable governance.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) weighed in and urged the government to align several laws including AIPPA, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Interception of Communications Act, and the Broadcasting Services Act among others which undermine the right to access information with the provisions of the new Constitution.

While the new Constitution has opened up access to information and developed the framework for people to access a wide and diverse range of information to assist them to actively participate in civic affairs, the current AIPPA is completely out of line with this. ZLHR urges the government to come up with a more constitutionally compliant piece of legislation to replace AIPPA and deal specifically with access to information issues,” reads part of a statement issued by ZLHR.

The country’s leading legal defence group also slammed the government for failing to end the puzzle confronting families of some missing human rights activists including Itai Dzamara, Paul Chizuze, Patrick Nabanyana and those who were murdered during the Gukurahundi massacres.

“One of the most depressing setbacks over the past years and months is the painful reality that the government and all the powerful State security organs cannot account for the whereabouts of Itai Dzamara, Paul Chizuze and Patrick Nabanyana among others. The situation of these people is not only disheartening, but shocking as they remain unaccounted for several years and months after they were disappeared while survivors of enforced disappearances have so many unanswered questions as to why they had to be subjected to such barbaric and callous treatment,” ZLHR said.

Last month, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) refused to comply with a request filed by human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa under the provisions of AIPPA for the identities of beneficiaries of the government’s controversial farm mechanisation programme.

Mtetwa had in May instituted moves to compel the RBZ to disclose the beneficiaries of the farm mechanisation scheme by asking the central bank to provide her with a schedule of all the beneficiaries, their particulars including full names and addresses. She had also demanded to be furnished with full details of the equipment delivered to each beneficiary including date of delivery and value of the farming equipment delivered. In demanding all the beneficiary details, the human rights lawyer said she was acting on the aegis of Section 5 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) urged the government to end the trend of secrecy particularly where citizens’ fundamental rights would have been violated.

“The failure to have disclosure, where human rights violations are concerned means that it is difficult to have closure, healing, reconciliation, and prevent recurrence,” ZimRights said.

Zimbabwe has on several years ranked poorly on press freedom indices owing to President Mugabe’s administration’s totalitarian tendencies which have seen dozens of journalists being harassed, arrested, prosecuted, jailed and even being disappeared.