From WikiEducator
Jump to: navigation, search



Compiled by Larry H. Njungu. Journalist, Trainer and Media Activist. Lusaka, Zambia

File:SAM 0133.JPG
journalist,trainer and media activist

News that the PF government will soon launch the Freedom of Information draft bill, which has been gathering dust on shelves for close to a decade, is a very good development and encouraging. From the outset, it speaks volume about the renewed commitment on the part of the new regime and gives renewed hope to some of us who have been fighting for this law for a long time but always met with frustration. As an interested party, I want to share with those that might not know where we are coming from and also highlight the importance of such a law.


After the introduction of Multiparty Democracy in Zambia, the then government started in earnest undertaking initiatives meant to reform the media in the Country. In 1992, in the spirit of aligning the Zambian media to the new democratic dispensation, the government under the Minitsry of Information and Broadcasting constituted an indaba for the media and primary stakeholders. This indaba gave birth to a Media Reform Committee (MRC) whose role was to audit the media landscape in the country and identify areas of reform. This committee, among other reforms it proposed to government was the enactment of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act (IBA), The ZNBC Act and the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act/Law. After these proposals were given to government, the government seemed to have just sat on them and no action was being taken. The silence and lack of action on the part of government to initiate these bill led to worries among the media stakeholders and civil society movement. In 1999, the media stakeholders and the civil society decided to take a leading role in the formation of these laws. As lack would have it, in 2000 the parliamentary select committee on Information and Broadcasting rekindled the matter and reminded parliament that among the bills that had lagged behind for was the FOI. And in 2001 when the late President Mwanawasa took the mantle, Government published a draft bill in the government gazette and sought input or comments. The Zambia Independent Media Association, (MISA today) and other stakeholder reacted to the draft bill and indeed identified some deficiencies in the proposed bill. For instance the provision (section) that people requesting for information must identify themselves and must give reason why they need such information. This in itself was going to defeat the very purpose of an FOI law, which aims giving people a right to seek information with very limited justifiable conditions which must again be in the public interest.

Government did not take these misgivings into consideration and was bent on introducing the bill as they had drafted it. In response to this rigid stance by government, the media fraternity hired a private law firm known as MNB, to help them draft an ideal FOI bill. They also lobbied opposition members of parliament so that they could introduce the bill in the house as a private members motion. In Particular, then Livingstone Central Member of parliament, Sakwiba Sikota was supposed to introduce the bill in parliament. Other opposition MPs lobbied were Given Lubinda.

Government did not take these misgivings into consideration and was bent on introducing the bill as they had drafted it. In response to this rigid stance by government, the media fraternity hired a private law firm known as MNB, to help them draft an ideal FOI bill. They also lobbied opposition members of parliament so that they could introduce the bill in the house as a private members motion. In Particular, then Livingstone Central Member of parliament, Sakwiba Sikota was supposed to introduce the bill in parliament. Other opposition MPs lobbied were Given Lubinda.

However, this strategy to introduce the bill in parliament through a private member’s motion was thwarted by the constitutional provision Government invoked that any bill which will have cost implications incurred by government during its implementation has to have the blessing of Government through the President or Finance Minister. In a turn of events, government also drafted its own Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill which borrowed heavily from the draft bill by the media stakeholders. In 2002, the government introduced this FOI bill, among other bills (IBA & ZNBC ), in the house and it went through the first and second reading. In 2003, as the bill was at committee stage in readiness to be subjected to the third and final reading, the government withdrew it. The reasons advanced for thewithdraw were scanty. For instance at one stage it was said that there was no sufficient research undertaken before the introduction of the bill. It was also said that a lot of consultation was needed before the bill could be introduced and passed. There was also apprehensions that the bill had not taken into consideration security matters of the country. The government promised to reintroduce the bill in the house immediately it had addressed the above concerns. Since then, successful governments have always been dilly dallying, giving one reason after the other when reminded when they will bring back the bill to parliament. In all their explanations, the successive governments have acknowledged that a FOI law is cardinal to democracy and good governance. They kept on promising to reintroduce the bill, soon, in the house. However, their promises did not materialise into anything.


On 10th October 2011, Vice President Guy Scott revealed that the PF government will table the Freedom of Information bill before Parliament within 90 days. Dr Scott was speaking to Journalists at State House shortly after witnessing the swearing in of Lieutenant General Paul Mihova as Army Commander.{ ZNBC NEWS 10-10-11} On 14th November 2011, then INFORMATION, Broadcasting and Tourism Minister Given Lubinda said he was hopeful that Government in collaboration with other stakeholders will manage to put in place a Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill within the next six months. [Times of Zambia] 15-11-11 Mr Lubinda revealed that Government and the media houses in Zambia were working together on establishing media legislation especially the FOI regarding the operations of the media in the country. Again at a conference on Freedom Of Information which was organized by World Bank Zambia on 27th November 2011, the Zambian government announced its commitment not only to enact the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill but also to implement it. {World Bank Press Release} Then Minister of Information, Broadcasting and Tourism Given Lubinda said that in its commitment to this process, the government would, among other things, constitute a committee of stakeholders including public officials, experts and civil society representatives to participate and guide the development of this legislation. From the pronouncements made that far, it showed that the new government wished to reactivate the debate on FOI which would lead to its reintroduction in the house. Recently, Government has announced that the task force has finished drafting the bill and it will be launched on 26th June 2012 at Mulungushi International Conference Centre. With these tangible developments, it can safely be concluded that Zambia is certainly back on a path to modern style of governance which demands that an FOI law should be in place to avail citizens an opportunity to participate in the running of the country and hold Government accountable were necessary.


A Freedom of Information (FOI) Law establishes a right of access by the public to information held by government or public bodies. However, this right is subject to conditions. For instance, information that would jeorpadise national security, harm the nation’s international relations, prejudice an investigation etc. can not be obtained in name of Freedom of Information. The catch line is that the information so requested by any member of the public must be in the public interest. And it must be information held by government and its agency, corporations and other institution of a public nature. FOI can also include individuals having the right to access their own personal information which is held by government agencies. In an ideal situation, the implementation FOI is overseen and enforced by an independent watchdog commonly known as the Public Information Commission. It has been contended that FOI is a fundamental human right and the touchstone of all the freedoms…” For instance, the Commonwealth recognises human rights and access to state information as key components of its political values. In 1980, it declared that , “public participation in governmental process was most meaningful when citizens had adequate access to official information.” The benefits of and FOI law are many. Some of them include social development. FOI is fundamental to efforts of eradicating poverty and further development of society. It entails Information being published about the government programmes designed to tackle root causes of poverty. This ensures that citizens have a voice in determining how these strategies can effectively improve their lives. On the other hand, Information empowers poor community to battle circumstances they find themselves in and advance their interests. For example, without adequate health information, people are vulnerable to risks from which they don’t have knowledge to protect themselves The most significant benefit of an FOI Law is effectiveness in bringing about Good governance. FOI can help in creating good governance by promoting transparency and accountability. Public access to information is an essential part of modern government. A culture of secrecy and lack of transparency that still prevails in many political systems is not compatible with effective and mordern democratic governance. There is no FOI law that has no exemptions. Some information is exempted and cannot be availed to the public because it is in the public interest that it should not be disclosed. Among such exempted information may be: • Any information likely to compromise the defence of the country or prejudice the effectiveness, capability or security of armed forces or intelligence services. • If disclosure of any information would prejudice the economic interests of the country • Any information likely to prejudice relations between the country and any other state, • Court ,or confidential information obtained from another state, international organisation • Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities • Information held for the purposes of criminal investigations or proceedings, such as ascertaining whether a person should be charged with an offence • Law enforcement Information likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, the administration of justice,

It is now a worldwide consensus that what a government does is not its own private affair. It’s the public’s business, done on behalf of its citizens, hence they have a right to know. Commitment to FOI shows that a government does not see information as its own to be guarded jealously, but belonging to all its people. Many governments worldwide have had no option but to put FOIs in place. An FOI law lessens conflict between government and its people as it eradicates suspicion. When things are done in open, people will not resort to the grapevine and sow wrong information in others. Some countries like Sweden had its FOI law as way back as 1766. Other selected countries are: USA in 1966, Denmark in 1970, Norway in 1970, Australia in1997, Korea in 1998, Israel in 1998, Japan in1999, South Africa in 2000, Uganda in 2005 and India in 2005. It is refreshing to hear that Zambia will be joining the list.


It is important to advice that a lot of ground preparation is needed before the bill can be implemented. For instance, a proper implementation framework in terms of institutions, infrastructures/equipment, trained personnel, sensitised leadership and public etc. are cardinal in the operationisation of an FOI law. For instance some institutions will have to be restructured, some laws and policies will have to be amended/aligned to conform with environment the FOI law aspires to create. Hopefully in my next article I will look at “beyond the enactment of an FOI bill”. I invite comments to this article I have written.