Farirai Machivenyika Senior Reporter
The National Assembly on Thursday passed the Freedom of Information Bill with the full support of Zanu PF and opposition MPs after a lengthy drafting and amending process to ensure the final version was a product of consensus.
The Bill is the centrepiece of three proposed laws that will repeal the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and bring Zimbabwe’s information-related laws into conformity with the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution.
The other two, the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill, will be debated in Parliament soon.
The Bill was passed with minor amendments, with the concurrence of all political parties in the House.
The Bill seeks to give effect to Section 62 of the Constitution which provides for the right to access to information as enshrined in the Declaration of Rights.
The drafting process involved, at an early stage, input from the relevant Parliamentary portfolio committee, one of the committees that are chaired by an opposition MP, to ensure consensus was built.
Generally, legislation that involves rights does not generate ideological differences, but needs everyone to figure out how best to implement the right effectively.
The Bill sets out the procedure of access to information held by public institutions or information held by any person, which is necessary for the exercise or protection of a right.
It also sets out considerations for making available, on a voluntary basis by entities, certain categories of information thereby removing the need for formal requests for such information.
The Bill also sets out the scope of limitations on the right of access to information, the rights of third parties, the role of principal officers of entities and information officers in its implementation, procedures for internal and court appeals in respect to requests for access to information and the time limits within which these processes must be carried out.
Speaking on behalf of the Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services following the passage of the Bill, Mbizo legislator Mr Settlement Chikwinya (MDC-Alliance) thanked Government for the inclusivity in coming up with the Bill.
“At the point of drafting these laws, that is the laws which are repealing AIPPA, from the point of drafting Parliament was included. We went to Nyanga with the drafters and we had our input,” he said.
“At consultation stage and even at the point of cleaning up the areas where we did not find each other, we had a round-table meeting where the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Information and Parliament were involved. I believe that such a process will remove some of the political undertones which we may have in terms of suspicion. So I hope that the precedent can actually be sustained.”
Zanu PF representative for Makonde, Cde Kindness Paradza, said he was happy that AIPPA would be repealed.
“I just want to say that I am so happy for this 9th Parliament that we have all agreed to make sure that we tear down AIPPA which was a bad law and that Bill is going to repeal this law. So, we are very happy. I am vindicated because in 2003, I stood up here and I said this was a bad law and I was hounded out of the party because of that. I just want to put it on record that I am so happy because I am vindicated,” Cde Paradza said.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi thanked parliamentarians from across the political divide for the manner in which they debated the Bill.
“I want to thank the Honourable Members for the robust debate. I enjoyed it,” Minister Ziyambi said.
“I think the procedure that we used when we debated this Bill, we have had long sessions where we shared ideas and that is the reason why you saw we had a lot of concurrence on a lot of issues pertaining to this Bill. It is my wish that this culture is continued when we are producing more Bills in future.”
Following its passage in the National Assembly, the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee and will be transmitted to Senate thereafter.
Other Bills that are part of media reforms, including the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill, will be debated in Parliament soon.