This year’s International Day for Universal Access to Information Day (IDUAI) commemorated annually on 28 September comes at a timely moment for Zimbabwe to enact a democratic access to information law following the gazetting of the country’s Freedom of Information Bill.
Zimbabwe should, therefore, seize this moment by ensuring that provisions of the Freedom of Information Bill which seeks to foster the exercise and enjoyment of the right to access information, are in sync with Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution which provide for media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.
Fundamentally, this Bill should also meet regional and international benchmarks, and as set out in the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights’ Model Law on Access to Information.
The gazetting of the Bill which has since been subjected to public hearings for input by members of the public and civil society organisations imposes immense national responsibility on the government and parliament to do the right thing.
Parliament should, therefore, ensure that contributions from the public hearings are adequately captured and debated to fill identified gaps and inadequacies in the current Bill before it is passed into law.
In doing this, Parliament should not be influenced by narrow partisan political persuasions. Parliament should thus be driven by collective national resolve to set Zimbabwe on a clear democratic path that entrenches transparency and accountability of which access to information is a key ingredient.
Parliamentary debates on the Bill should be further guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 16), which outlines initiatives to adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information.
It is MISA Zimbabwe’s well-considered view that a democratic access to information law underpinned by requisite infrastructure and technology development, is key to unlocking the country’s socio-economic potential.
This is critical when viewed against SDG 2 on investment in rural infrastructure and technology development to build knowledgeable and informed societies.
Access to information and knowledge, free expression (online and offline), respect for cultural and linguistic diversity and quality education for all, are key pillars in building knowledge societies.
According to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), adoption of democratic freedom of and/access to information laws has been a global trend during the last 10 years.
As of 2019 more than 120 countries had put in place the required access to information legal frameworks. Zimbabwe cannot, therefore, continue to lag behind other progressive nations.
This is imperative as the International Day on Universal Access to Information Day comes at a time when the government is continuously reiterating its commitment to undertaking comprehensive socio-economic and political reforms amid mounting international pressure for Zimbabwe to live up to its constitutional obligations.