Bill Watch 40/2019 [The Freedom of Information Bill]

30 July 2019

BILL WATCH 40/2019
[30th July 2019]
The Freedom of Information Bill
On Friday 5th July the Freedom of Information Bill was published in the
Gazette; it is available on the Veritas website [Link]. It is the first of three Bills
the Government intends to present in Parliament to replace the much-criticised
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act [AIPPA]. In fact the Bill has
little to do with freedom of expression and deals almost entirely with access to
information, which is guaranteed by section 62 of the Constitution; clause 3 of
the Bill even states that its objective is “to give effect to the right of access to
information in accordance with the Constitution”. It would be more appropriately
called the “Access to Information Bill”.
What the Constitution has to say on Access to Information
Under section 62 of the Constitution:
Zimbabwean citizens and permanent residents have a right of access to
information held by State institutions, in the interests of public accountability
(section 62(1))
Everyone has a right of access to information held by anyone else, if the
information is needed for the exercise or protection of a right (section 62(2))
These rights of access may be restricted in the interests of defence, public
security or professional confidentiality so long as the restriction is fair,
reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a free and open democratic society
(section 62(4)).
Contents of Bill
Scope of Bill
The Bill is concerned with access to information held by three types of official
entity, namely “public entities”, “public commercial entities” and “holders of
statutory offices”.
Broadly these comprise government Ministries and
Departments, parastatals, State-owned companies, local authorities, and
officials such as the Registrar-General [For convenience, in this Bill Watch we
shall refer to these entities collectively as “public bodies”].
The Bill does not concern itself with access to information held by nongovernmental bodies such as companies and medical aid societies ‒ which
may hold a great deal of information about members of the public.
Requests for information
A large part of the Bill ‒ Part III, consisting of 12 clauses ‒ is devoted to
requests for information held by public bodies and what those bodies must do
when they receive them. Requests will have to be in writing and public bodies
will be obliged to respond to them ‒ i.e. to provide or refuse to provide the
requested information ‒ “as soon as is reasonably possible” and in any event
within 21 days, though requests concerning a person’s life or liberty will have to

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