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New information law should set pace for repeal of other draconian laws

THE signing into law of the Freedom of Information Act as part of the processes of repealing the draconian and widely discredited Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) is a significant milestone in Zimbabwe’s law reforms agenda that should set the pace for the repeal of other laws that infringe on the country’s constitutional rights. Commendably, some of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act will go a long way in giving effect to sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution which provide for freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information. Of concern though among other contentious issues is the fact that the new law ignores overwhelming submissions by citizens during public hearings into the Freedom of Information Bill before its passage in Parliament, pertaining to the roles of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). Overwhelming submissions were made on the need for appeals relating to denial of information requests to be lodged with the ZHRC, or a competent court of law, and not with the ZMC as its constitutional mandate is on media regulation. In Bulawayo, a citizen submitted that it would not be appropriate to launch an appeal with the Zimbabwe Media Commission should one be denied access to their health records. In her view, the ZMC would not be the competent body to arbitrate in a matter in which the commission does not have the expertise and knowledge to handle an issue pertaining to health. Another resident in Marondera, said the Zimbabwe Media Commission was not decentralised to all provinces as is the case with the ZHRC, making it difficult, therefore, for citizens living in areas where the ZMC is not represented, to immediately lodge their appeals. It is, therefore, MISA Zimbabwe’s well considered view that the right to access to information is a human right and that the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is thus more suitable to attend to complaints relating to the exercise of that right as opposed to a media regulatory body such as the ZMC. ZHRC is the guardian of human rights, which include the right to access to information, and should therefore be the appellant body in that regard. We nonetheless note that the Act despite the aforementioned anomaly, makes provision for further appeals to the High Court if an applicant is not satisfied with the decision of the ZMC. Courts of law are best suited to settle and finalise disputes between parties and it is commendable that the Bill acknowledges the role of courts of law such as the High Court. Judicial oversight is key in promoting transparency and accountability. Synopsis of the Freedom of Information Act This piece of legislation seeks to give effect to the constitutional rights on freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information held by entities in the interest of public accountability or for the exercise of a right, and also to repeal AIPPA. The repeal of AIPPA, is a commendable step in Zimbabwe’s law reform initiatives as highlighted earlier. It should, howe

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