27 November 2012

Zimbabwe's Lawmakers Debate a Constitutional Right to Know

Freedominfo.org reports that the drafters of Zimbabwe’s constitution are considering including a provision on the right to information.

According to access to information experts, the proposed provision is too restrictive. It would only give citizens the right to access to information held by a public body if citizens need the information to exercise other rights, or if releasing the information is ‘in the interests of public accountability.’ Critics worry this approach could weaken the right to access information by requiring requesters to justify why they need information before they access it. [1]

The proposed provision states:

4.19    Access to information

(1) Every citizen or resident of Zimbabwe, including the Zimbabwean press and other media of communication, has the right of access to—

       (a)   any information held by all the State and institutions and agencies of government at every level, in so far as the information is required for the exercise or protection of a right or in the interests of public accountability;

       (b)   information held by any other person, in so far as the information is required for the exercise or protection of a right.

(2) Every person has a right to the correction of information, or the deletion of untrue, erroneous or misleading information, which is held by the State or any institution or agency of the government at any level, and which relates to that person.

(3)           Legislation must be enacted to give effect to this right, but may restrict access to information in the interests of defence, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in an open, just and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.

Unlike the provision proposed for Zimbabwe’s constitution, South Africa’s constitution allows people to access government information even if that information is not required to exercise or protect a right. Section 32 states:

Everyone has the right of access to - 

  • any information held by the state; and
  • any information that is held by another person that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.

There are currently fourteen other African countries with constitutions that recognize the right to information.

  [1] “Zimbabwe Considers Flawed RTI Constitutional Clause.” Freedominfo.org. 16 November 2012.