23 March 2012

Zimbabwe’s Draft Constitution enhances existing right of access to information

A recent Draft Constitution for Zimbabwe guarantees the right to access information and protects media freedom. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) pointed out that this was a "vast improvement compared with the current constitution" which has no such protections. The draft Constitution could be ready for approval by the end of the year.

The current freedom of information law in Zimbabwe is contained in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which was signed by President Mugabe in 2002. Some civil society groups have criticised the law's implementation on the basis that it is used in practice to stifle the flow of information, rather than to enhance it. The Secretary for Media, Information, and Publicity in Zimbabwe, George Charamba, hinted that AIPPA could be amended once the Constitution drafting process is complete to ensure that there are no inconsistencies between the two laws.

The provisions of the draft Constitution that deal with access to information mirror South Africa's Constitution, which guarantees a right of access to information held by the state, as well as information held by private parties where it is required for the exercise or protections of the requester's legal rights. Each of these documents attributes the right to information to "everyone", as opposed to limiting its application to citizens of a particular country or to natural persons. This represents an important expansion over the existing law, which only permits access to information held by public bodies and limits the application of the right to citizens of Zimbabwe.

The constitutional protection of the right to information is a positive development for Zimbabwe's government. It will enhance access to information by protecting against unreasonable interpretations or abuses of the existing law. Given that the Draft Constitution is designed to be the Supreme law of the country, portions of AIPPA that contradict the constitutional provision could be struck down. These developments will broaden the right of access to information which will assist in building participation among Zimbabwean people in the democratic governance of their state. It will enable them to hold the government accountable, ensure transparency within government institutions, and to root out corruption.