The Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) has urged stakeholders to make contributions to the proposed Freedom of Information Bill, which seeks to repeal the Access to Information and Privacy Act (AIPPA).
During a pre-sensitisation meeting in Bulawayo, Thursday, Vivian Mashavave from SAPST encouraged members of civil society organizations and those of the media to attend the public hearings for the Bill.
Mashavave said not many significant changes were visible from the Bill in comparison to AIPPA.
“The chief mandate of the bill is to repeal AIPPA hence as stakeholders you must know Constitutional provisions as far as access to information is concerned, said Mashavave.
“The Bill must clearly articulate the voluntary and mandatory mechanisms of providing information especially that which is in the interest of the public by both private and public entities.”
Mashavave said the Bill does not deviate much from AIPPA as it does not effectively deal with the time frame within which information can be released.
“It states that access to information can be given within 21 days as compared to the 31 days provided for by AIPPA. However, if an information officer feels there is a need for an extension they can seek that. This still brings us back to the challenges faced under AIPPA,” he said.
Mashavave reiterated that another clause which needs to be looked into is one which speaks to the voluntary and mandatory mechanisms of providing information especially that which is in the interest of the public by both private and public entities.
“It is important for the Bill to clearly state that certain information, although deemed classified at one point needs to be declassified at a certain point to enable citizens to understand why certain decisions which affect them were made,” he said.
“For example,” he added “there are certain decisions that are made by the government and information is withheld in a bid to maintain international relations with surrounding countries. A certain time frame at least needs to be set for the government to release this kind of information.”
Thomas Sithole, a media practitioner who attended the meeting said there is need to translate Bills into various languages and for public hearings to be held in remote areas so that all citizens can be allowed an opportunity to air their views before various laws are passed.
Sithole said members of Parliament need to interact with members of their constituency as this would empower them with the courage to seek information pertaining to their well-being and the affairs of the country.