FUNGAI CHIMWAMUROMBE & PLAXEDES TAVIRAI
The government has gazetted the Freedom of Information regulations under Statutory Instrument 229 of 2021.
These regulations guide disclosure of information by public entities.
The regulations follow the Freedom of Information Act that was signed into law in 2020 which also repealed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which also give effect to the right to access to information as provided for by the Constitution.
According to Section40 of the Act, the Zimbabwe Media Commission has the responsibility to make regulations that provide for all matters that are required or permitted to be prescribed, or are necessary or convenient to be prescribed in order to carry out or give effect to the Act, after consulting with the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services.
In addition to giving effect to the fundamental right of access to information these regulations intends to improve transparency and accountability by public organisations, in addition to giving effect to the fundamental right of access to information.
The regulations require entities to disclose information on their institutions within six (6) months of the regulations enactment date, and within six (6) months of the entity’s establishment date for those that were or will be established after the regulations enactment date.
An initial statement of the organisation has to be published, which will include a description of its functions, a list of its departments and agencies, if any, the subjects handled by each department and agency, the locations of departments and agencies, the opening hours of the authority’s and its departments and agencies offices, the title and business address of the principal officer, a description of the subjects on which the entity holds records, and the categories of records held by the entity among other information so required by the regulations.
Every public entity, public commercial entity or holder of a statutory office, except those for whom the Act does not apply, shall designate an information officer for the entity and ensure that members of the public have easy access to relevant information concerning the Information Officer, including his or her name, function and contact details.
Duties of the public officer include the mandate to ensure persons who are applying for access to personal information prove their identity, conduct interviews with applicants to ensure that the appropriate records are located, to ensure that applicants are fully informed of the status of their applications and to inform applicants when it is known that a record is already published and if requested provide information as to where the information can be accessed or provide access to that information.
A request for access to information in terms of section 7 of the Act and is in the form set out in the First Schedule of the regulations. Upon receipt of the request, an officer from the entity to whom a request is given or transmitted shall accept it and pass it on to the information officer as soon as practicable but not later than twenty-four hours from the date of receiving the request.
Further, where a request has been made and on receipt of the request the information officer shall dispatch to the applicant a letter of acknowledgement in the form set out in the Second Schedule.
The information officer shall make a determination to grant or refuse the request in accordance with the provisions of section 8 of the Act. The refusal should therefore be tested by tested and cannot be unreasonable.
The third schedule of the regulations provides that no fees shall be payable for purposes of accessing information, but the fees shall be charged for reproduction, photocopying, transcription and translating of copies as charged by the public entity.
The writers suggest that these fees should not be deterrent to ensure that the intention of the legislature is met.
The regulations work as a tool in assisting the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by entities upon request.
The regulations outline mandatory disclosure procedures, and also outline exemptions to such information disclosure.
The act as well as the regulations are intended to make Zimbabwean government agencies’ functions more transparent so that the general public can more easily identify problems in government functioning and put pressure on the government and the President to address them.
Fungai Chimwamurombe is a registered legal practitioner and Senior Partner at Chimwamurombe Legal Practice and can be contacted for feedback at email@example.com and WhatsApp 0772 997 889. Plaxedes Tavirai is an intern and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org