Civil Society Communique on the Formulation and Enactment of the Access to Information Law in Zambia
We, the undersigned Civil Society Organizations and media actors, while meeting at the Mika Convention Center on the 21st of December 2021, under the auspices of the Open Spaces Zambia Initiative, and in our quest to further the advocacy calling on government to enact the Access to Information law in Zambia, have noted that this call has been going on in Zambia since 2002 when the first Freedom to Information Bill was drafted and tabled before the National Assembly of Zambia. During this time, several commitments and promises have been made by successive government to do this through Parliament. However, the process has always suffered setbacks as the bill keeps being shelved.
Realizing the importance of access to information for all Zambians, and as citizen actors, we are concerned with the slow pace the process of enacting this piece of legislation, we hereby agree that:
- we support the government’s commitment to enacting the Access to Information law which was shelved by successive governments for the past 20 years.
- the current Government should put in place a more comprehensive, inclusive, consultative mechanism/process and a clear roadmap to the enactment of the ATI law to respond to the needs of all Zambians in accessing public information and contributing to the fight against corruption.
- the Government must consider extending the deadline which ended on 17th December 2021 to enable CSOs make well-researched submissions on the draft Access to Information Bill, 2021. The rushed call for submission under tight deadline did not produce constructive input expected from the CSO sector on this process. The timeframe given to CSOs of 24hours was too short a period, making it almost impossible to make meaningful submissions to the document.
- it is our sincere desire and expectation that the ATI law MUST be passed before June 2022. This will help in the anti-corruption fight that the new administration has embarked on among other benefits for the state and citizens.
- the current draft ATI Bill should undergo comprehensive reviewed with a gender lens and with marginalized groups in mind to benefit women and girls, persons with disabilities and other groups who are often left behind to ensure that the law will be accessible and usable to these groups.
- both government and the CSOs should come up with practical ways to sensitize and educate citizens on the current contents of the ATI Bill before presentation to Parliament to ensure that it speaks to the purpose of the cause that citizens have yearned for years.
- We call for transparency at every stage during the process of refining the draft ATI Bill so that all stakeholders are fully aware of what will finally be tabled in Parliament. This will be in line with the old principle of “process protects content”.
- Once the Draft ATI Bill is enacted into law, CSOs and Government should ensure that a robust public awareness of this law is conducted, which should include simplifying the ATI law for easy citizens’ assimilation. Further, the State and CSOs should strive to have the simplified ATI law translated into local languages.
Should there be further delay from Government to enact this Draft ATI Bill into law, we, the undersigned CSOs, hereby agree that:
- we should sustain the advocacy agenda to see the realization of the enactment of the ATI law in Zambia as desired by majority Zambian people and as a prerequisite to attaining other socio-economic and civil rights and liberties.
- as a sector, we will encourage the New Dawn Government to actualize the pledge that was elusive to other governments before them-that of enacting the ATI Law. The constant change of mind in the past by successive governments has created an unacceptable pattern of inconsistency on the part of those in power.
- the New Dawn Government must be encouraged to conclude this ATI law enactment process in line with the political will that it has attached to the enactment of this piece of legislation before the August 12 General Election to enhance the fight against corruption.
- We, the undersigned CSOs, are also pledging our commitment to be part of the ATI review and enactment processes/mechanisms and roadmap respectively that the government would put in place. We further demand that this be done in a transparent manner where the general public is provided with information regarding the content of the final draft ATI to ensure that the law that will emanate from this draft is based on the aspirations of the majority Zambians.
In conclusion, we, the undersigned CSOs, have every reason to believe that the Government will not delay any further the enactment of this law but will find it necessary quickly enact it to promote growth to the country’s democracy, the fight against corruption and nurture a transparent and accountable governance system in Zambia.
NAMES OF CSOs TO BE PART OF THIS COMMUNIQUE
Action Aid Zambia
Advocacy for Child Justice – ACJ
Bloggers of Zambia
Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services – GEARS
Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection – JCTR
Media Institute of Southern Africa – MISA
Media Liaison Committee – MLC
Operation Young Vote – OYV
Panos Institute Southern Africa – PSAF
People’s Action for Accountability ang Good Governance in Zambia – PAAGZ
The Mast Newspaper
Zambia Association of Colleges Students Union – ZACOSU
Zambia Institute of Independent Media – ZIIMA
Zambia Interfaith Networking Group – ZINGO
Zambia Media Women Association – ZAMWA
Zambia National Women’s Lobby – ZNWL