MISA-Zimbabwe Communique on the most open public institutions

MISA Zimbabwe Communiqué

ZIMSEC most closed institution- MISA survey report

The Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) is the most closed public body while the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) emerged as the most open and transparent according to a 2011 survey report undertaken by MISA-Zimbabwe.

The annual survey report which was officially launched by MISA-Zimbabwe Chairperson Njabulo Ncube in Harare on 8 March 2012, focused on eight public institutions to assess and deterimine the availability and accessibility of information held by public bodies.

The other institutions so assessed included, the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), National Aids Council (NAC), Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) and Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA).

Of the eight institutions, ZIMSEC did not have an accessible website, a situation that is very disturbing given the importance of its mandate. Of the seven institutions with websites, only two of these had up-to-date information. Five had very little or completely outdated information.

Only two institutions, National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and NSSA responded to written questions submitted by MISA-Zimbabwe.

However, ZIMSEC was the most secretive of these institutions as it does not have a website. Tasked with the vital national responsibility of maintaining the integrity of Zimbabwe’s education system, it is inexcusable for such an institution to have no website as its operations are of serious national/public interest.

Meanwhile, given the standard principles on access to information as well as the criteria of the research, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe fared relatively better and deserving of the 2011 Golden Key Award for the most open and transparent public institution while the National Aids Council qualifies as the runner-up.

Ncube stressed that the right to information underpins a host of other human rights. “For example, freedom of expression and thought inherently rely on the availability of adequate information to make informed opinions.

“Likewise, the realisation and claim to other rights is also dependant on having sufficient information in that regard,” he said.

He noted that contrary to its perceived intentions, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) had cumbersome provisions and requirements which did not enhance citizens’ right to access to information. This situation was made worse by other existing legislation such as the Official Secrets Act and the fact that the constitution did not explicitly guarantee the right to access to information.

“As MISA-Zimbabwe we therefore urge the government of Zimbabwe to table the proposed Freedom of Information Bill before parliament which we hope will go a long way in enhancing citizens’ right to access to information and foster transparency and accountability in both private and private bodies,” said Ncube.

Guest speaker and former Attorney General of Zimbabwe Andrew Chigovera said access to information falls within the general rubric of the right to freedom of expression. He said the importance of the free flow of information cannot be overemphasised as this was key to the development and welfare of society and enjoyment of other fundamental freedoms.

Chigovera who also served as a Commissioner with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, castigated the provisions of AIPPA saying they were never intended to provide access to information. He observed that the provisions were not in line with international standards and best practices and contravene the requirement that any limitations to freedom of expression must be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

In its report MISA-Zimbabwe calls for the repealing of the offending provisions under AIPPA that make it cumbersome to access information. “These should be substituted with provisions that compel public institutions to periodically release information about their operations; establish monitoring mechanisms on public bodies compliance; penalties for breach of the law, among other provisions that are in sync with international instruments on freedom of expression and access to information,” says the report.

There is also need for increased awareness campaigns on the right to access to information targeted at government institutions and members of the public to exert pressure on the institutions to release information in the public interest.

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