BY VENERANDA LANGA
ZIMBABWEANS have suggested that information contained in Cabinet minutes must be declassified and made public after a period of 10 to 20 years.
Prince Dubeko Sibanda, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information and Media, said this had come out during public hearings on the Freedom of Information Bill which will soon be crafted by Parliament.
The Bill was gazetted on July 5 and is one of the first three Bills that government intends to present in Parliament to replace the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which was deemed very
oppressive as it had little to do with freedom of expression and access to information which is currently guaranteed by section 62 of the Constitution.
Clause 6 (a) of the Freedom of Information Bill allows for non-disclosure of “the deliberations or functions of Cabinet and it’s committees” which means that Cabinet minutes have to remain secret despite that they
are matters of legitimate public interest.
“People from different areas in the country including Harare, Bindura and Penhalonga have suggested that information from Cabinet meetings must be made accessible or declassified after a period of time; for example, 10 to 20 years and thereafter be made public,” Sibanda said.
He said the Freedom of Information Bill in its current form stated that the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) will oversee the law; and yet the ZMC only deals with one sector, which is to specifically superintend over the rights of the media to access information.
Sibanda said people do not want the ZMC to superintend the Bill.
“Suggestions by members of the public are that they prefer the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to deal with all aspects of complaints on issues to do with the rights to access to information and not the ZMC,” Sibanda said.
He said most contributors were against clause 8 of the Bill which stipulates that when a person requests for information, it would be made available at least within 21 days.
“People are saying that 21 days is too long to wait for information. They suggested that three to seven days is enough. In Rwanda, information which is requested for is provided within three days, and in Uganda
it is provided within seven days,” he said.
In Penhalonga, journalists suggested that the media fraternity must be given an exemption so that they can access information within 48 hours after a Cabinet sitting.