‘Re-educate public officers to avail information’

By Nhau Mangirazi

A former cabinet minister has called for the ‘reorientation’ of public officials to avail information to citizens as they have right to access information without hindrance.

Speaking during a belated World Press Freedom Day in Chinhoyi Webster Shamu, a former minister of information and Chegutu West Member of Parliament said citizens have right to information.

He was responding after Peter Liwanda, chairman of Chinhoyi Residents Trust asked procedures to be taken if public is denied access to information from council.

Liwanda said, ‘‘Chinhoyi Residents Trust submitted a request to municipality to avail us with information on wetlands in the town. We have been so patient unlike other resident’s organizations that took council to court so that they can get that information. Our appeal now is that as the ministry is making media reforms, let it be spelt that citizens have right to public information. Local authorities are not taking us on right to access information,’’   

Deputy minister of information, media and broadcasting services Kindness Paradza said legally there is law and its clear on access to information.

He said, ‘‘The law under Freedom of Information Act entitles every citizen the freedom to access any public documents if they are not of a security nature and cabinet briefings that are classified information. You must have access to any other public information. The officials that are denying you the information are not aware of the new law to release this information to citizens. If media is denied access they can appeal through Zimbabwe Media Commission but in terms of ordinary citizens they can approach Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission or the courts as it is justified. If a court grants you a court order then no one can defy the law.”

Paradza appealed to the media to publicize the new law. Each institution must have an information officer responsible for distributing information when it is required. Unpack this as this year theme says Information for public good’’

The deputy minister added that if council officials continue to be arrogant, court of law must take its course.

He said, ‘‘Council officials can be charged for contempt of court.’’

Hon Shamu suggested that services provider official’s needs reorientation of social responsibility on access to information.    

‘We need to teach them what it means to be in public office as when they were employed they held parties but now they don’t want to work. Why do you deny such public information as if it is your personal property? Personally, I have waged big wars with Zesa guys in Chegutu but I have stood my ground on my right to get the service that I deserve. They were switching off my electricity even when there is no load-shedding but that will never deter me at all. Every citizen has that right and council officials are offside on access to information,’’Shamu said.

Recently, Karoi Residents Trust, Karoi Urban and Residents Association and Progressive Karoi Residents’ lawyers wrote to Karoi town council demanding a Master Plan within 48 hours.

They were being represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights but nothing has happened that may lead to legal battle ground in the farming town.

Recent investigations exposed abused wetlands haunting the farming town that triggered the residents’ concerns.