THE Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information and Media has recommended that media practitioners who request for information from the government or any other entities must get a response within 48 hours.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
Hon Prince Dubeko Sibanda
The Freedom of Information Bill will replace the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), which was considered by many in Zimbabwe to be notoriously draconian and impinging on access to information.
“During public hearings on the Freedom of Information Bill there was a request that requests for information by the media practitioners should be responded to within 48 hours and that requests for information by the general public should be provided to within a maximum of seven days,” Sibanda said while presenting the committee report recently in the National Assembly.
“It was submitted that the period for requested responses is too long and should be reduced to at least five days or less, with some advocating for 48 hours or three working days since information easily becomes obsolete.”
Sibanda said the current Freedom of Information Bill is commendable because it has some positive departures from Aippa, including measures aimed at promoting transparency and accountability.
“However, there remain other issues related to the accessibility of information that must be given immediate attention to bring the Bill into line with section 62 of the Constitution. The Bill is silent on a number of issues which include the inability to transfer requests from one entity to another among others,” he said.
Mberengwa South MP Alum Mpofu (Zanu PF) said the Bill should ensure that people who request for information get that information in their preferred language.
“The issue of language is a very sensitive matter because language, citizenship and empowerment are greatly tied together. Citizens feel immediately disempowered if they are not allowed to get information in the language of their choice,” Mpofu said.
“Information officers or those responsible to deliver information should be adequately trained and show that they are actually committed to deliver that important public service of disseminating information.”
Mutasa South MP Regai Tsunga (MDC Alliance) said the Freedom of Information Bill would give effect to the constitutional provisions that guarantee the rights to access to information.
Tsunga said the period of 35 days for which one is given to request for information and make an appeal if that information is not released was too long.
“The Bill provides a further 14 days if the information cannot be availed within 21 days for a total of 35 days before one can appeal. This period is obviously too long because, for example if one went to ZIMSEC [Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council] to get information about maybe missing examination results which they want to use to enrol at some university, they might have to wait for 35 days before they can get that information and meanwhile, perhaps the closing date for enrolment would have long passed,” Tsunga said.
He suggested that the period must be reduced to seven days so that information is not withheld by public entities.
“Requests for information should be admissible in any form — verbal, written, text, email so that our people are able to make their requests and the information is granted. The Bill also insists on payment for translation if the information that one requires is not maintained in the language that they use that is readily available in the offices,” he said.