Charles Mabhena|

In 2015, the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) commissioned Information Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) the report that reveals serious shortcomings In the media operating environment in Zimbabwe, the report recommended some reforms and repeal of Acts that make access to information for both the media and ordinary citizen cumbersome.

Over the years GoZ has been using draconian, and oppressive laws that suppresses the freedoms of association, expression, and access to information.

One such law that IMPI recommended to be repealed is the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act of 2002 (AIPPA), however, the government seems to be reluctant and dragging its feet in that regard.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA- Zimbabwe chapter)’s 2015 report on Open and Secretive Public Institutions in Zimbabwe titled ‘Government Openness in  an Information Age (GOIA), acknowledges that many public officials shield themselves from public scrutiny by using provisions of AIPPA to frustrate efforts by citizens and media to access information.

“The preamble of AIPPA states that the public have the right to access records and information held by public bodies,” reads the report, adds that it is disheartening that the opposite is true, as the law takes away more than it gives.

GOIA report says under AIPPA, applicants seeking information or records held by a public body are required to apply in writing, and in many cases pay a fee, with the head of the body having 30 days to respond who also has the right to refuse to grant the requested data. As if that is not enough, in the event that the applicant feel aggrieved, the only available redress is that he/ she may ask the commissioner to review the body’s decision of rejecting to grant the information, but, this review does not guarantee that the applicant will be able to access the requested information.

It says this is a tendency by public officials to hide information, despite the fact that the government is a mere custodian of such information for the public, and not the owner of it.

The study sampled various government departments and other public bodies in order to see how secretive they are among the sampled are Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, National Aids Council, ZIFA, Ministry of Justice, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, among other ministries and public bodies.

During the survey, it was noticed that most public bodies either never reply requests sent to them at all or give vague response most of them after the period of 21 days.

To add to the frustrations, most websites of such bodies contained useless information which were not up to date.

Meanwhile, Information Technology (IT) experts and media persons have recently condemned government departments for not providing vital information through their websites, a move viewed as a way to hold back valuable public information away from its rightful owners, the citizens.

The experts and journalists say Zimbabwean government has failed to turn the websites into interactive information hubs that would lessen the burden of the populace to access government services.

Observing the Human Rights Day 2016 commemorations at a meeting convened by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, supported by NGO Hivos people unlimited, IT lawyer Kuda Hove took a swipe at government institutions laxity. He expressed dismay at how the government is denying citizens’ information.

Hove says that although the country is now seeing people assembling freely online parliament should take an oversight role in making the governments departments accountable over the shoddy way the websites are managed.

Zimpapers head of Digital services Delta Ndou bemoaned the way how government websites are run, and submit that the government is missing the opportunity to use the internet to communicate important government standpoints.

Internet in Zimbabwe is growing with a penetration rate of 19 percent from 2013 to 20 percent in 2014. According the International organisation international telecommunication Union the country continues to make strides in making internet accessible to the populace.

Figures by Zimbabwe telecommunications regulatory body, POTRAZ suggests a 99 percent access by Zimbabweans who are accessing internet via their mobile phones. The official government statistics puts the penetration rate at 50 percent as of December 2015. This includes line and mobile internet subscriptions.

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary general Foster Dongozi says it is important for legislators to address the concerns of the legislative framework which underpins the enjoyment of Internet freedom.

Parliament will soon be reviewing bills, the Computers and Cyber Crime, Data protection and electronic commerce. Both have a bearing on the use of internet in the country and analysts view this move as the a way by GoZ to further restrict access to information by its citizens.