FULL TEXT: Election Resource Centre Speak On Freedom Of Information Bill

The Election Resource Centre (ERC) notes the adoption of the Freedom of Information Bill to law and the subsequent repealing of the Access to Information and Privacy Act (AIPPA), that had stifled steps towards a free, fair and transparent electoral environment. The repeal of AIPPA comes on the backdrop of consistent calls by electoral stakeholders including local and international 2018 Election Observer Missions to repeal the Act and formed part of ERC’s calls and recommendations for electoral reform.

Freedom of Information and the access to it are at the heart of participatory democracy and elections. The historical consequences of uninformed electoral stakeholders going towards polls has resulted in probes into the accountability and credibility of past electoral processes.

Accessing information is intrinsically linked to credible, transparent and accountable elections. Freedom of Information and the transparency it promotes, has a direct consequence on the quality of electoral processes in Zimbabwe. The right to access information comprises of the positive obligation of the State to provide its citizens with access to the information in its possession, and the corresponding right of individuals to access the information held by State Institutions.

The ascension of the Freedom of Information Act to law, however, does not guarantee access.
Without a change in the attitude and culture by State Institutions towards accessing information, the public will not be empowered and will still face an arduous task in accessing information. The current institutional culture towards access to information will be the greatest barrier to success, as the success of the Freedom of Information Act lies in both the willingness of government to be transparent, as well as the ability of citizens to demand information. State institutions and citizens must be adequately able and willing to implement, enforce and use the laws.

Ensuring access to information is a priority as information is central to transparency, good governance and credible elections. Information can ensure transparency, accountability and the rule of law and promotes participation in electoral discourse as freedom of information is integral for an open and informed debate.

The adoption of the Freedom of Information Act is an encouraging position and the ERC calls on the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to take this positivity and ensure that all laws be fully aligned with the Constitution. Addressing the outstanding alignment of law and electoral reform issues especially the Electoral Act will go a long way in breaking the cycle of disputed elections in Zimbabwe ahead of the 2023 harmonized elections.

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