Government yesterday gazetted the Freedom of Information Bill, which seeks to repeal the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
The Bill, which seeks to give effect to Section 62 of the Constitution which provides for the right to access to information as enshrined in the Declaration of Rights, is part of the Second Republic’s efforts to fulfil the reform agenda aimed at seeing the country pursuing a new trajectory in its domestic and foreign policies.
The Bill sets out the procedure of access to information held by public institutions or information held by any person, which is necessary for exercise or protection of a right. It also sets out considerations for making available on a voluntary basis by entities, certain categories of information thereby removing the need for formal requests for such information.
It also sets out the scope of limitations on the right of access to information, the rights of third parties, the role of principle officers of entities and information officers in its implementation, procedures for internal and court appeals in respect to requests for access to information and the time limits within which these processes must be carried out.
It also sets out additional functions of the Human Rights Commission with respect to the right of access to information, which are to be exercised in the normal course of its role as the guardian of human rights.
Part Two of the Bill which deals with providing access to information, bestows in Clause 4, a duty on entities to maintain the information of entities in a manner that facilitates the exercise of the right to access information.
“Every responsible person or holder of a statutory office shall cause to be created, kept, organised and maintain information, in the interests of public accountability or in the exercise or protection of a right,” reads Clause 4 of the Bill.
Clause 5 of the Bill requires public entities, public commercial entities and holders of statutory bodies to disclose information which is in the interest of the public accountability and in the interest of protection of a right.
However, Clause 6 states that the Act will not apply to information from Cabinet and its committees, with respect to judicial functions.
Part Three deals with the process of requesting for access to information.
In the event the request relates to information necessary to safeguard the life or liberty of a person, the information officer’s determination whether to grant access must be made within 48 hours.
“Where a request relates to information which reasonably appears to be necessary to safeguard the life or liberty of a person, the responsible person or holder of a statutory office shall, within forty-eight hours of the submission of the request determine whether or not the request may be granted and notify the applicant of the decision whether to grant the request in writing and if the request is granted, give the applicant access to the information within the same forty-eight-hour period,” reads Clause 8 of the Bill.
The Bill also requires responsible persons to make annual reports to the Human Rights Commission on the numbers of requests received, granted, refused or appealed.
Part Five of the Bill sets out various grounds upon which a request for access may be refused for the purpose of protecting other rights and interests, which may be superior to the right of access to information.
Clause Six of the Bill repeals AIPPA (Chapter 10:27).
“Subject to subsection (2) the AIPPA (Chapter 10:27) is repealed. All statutory instruments or made under the AIPPA Act (Chapter 10:27) shall remain in force as if they had been made under the appropriate provision of this Act and may be amended, replaced or repealed accordingly.”
The Bill will go through Parliamentary debates and public hearings.
As part of President Mnangagwa’s reform agenda, early this year, Cabinet also approved the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill, which seeks to repeal the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
The repeal of AIPPA and POSA is expected to pave way for the opening of the democratic space and the enjoyment of freedoms and rights, moving away from the previous era before the advent of President Mnangagwa’s administration.