The Civil Society Coalition on Access to Information Law (ATI) has urged the Minister for Information and Broadcasting Services Chishimba Kambwili to consider speeding up the process of enacting the Access to Information law.
In a statement released to the media and signed by Acting JCTR Director, Geoffrey Chongo, the coalition said that any attempt to tie the ATI bill to the last failed referendum on the Bill of Rights will not be tolerated by any well meaning Zambian.
“Assertions that the ATI bill cannot be presented before the National Assembly simply because its provision in the Bill of Rights was rejected by the people during the last failed referendum are not only disheartening but also regressive,” read the statement.
Below is the full statement
As Civil Society Coalition on Access to Information Law (ATI), we wish to take note of the reappointment of Hon. Chishimba Kambwili as Minister for Information and Broadcasting Services. We acknowledge President Edgar Lungu for having had reconsidered Hon. Kambwili because he will not require any form of orientation for him to get down to work. In congratulating Hon. Kambwili, we urge him to consider speeding up the process of enacting the Access to Information law. This we demand that it must be among his priorities.
Any attempt to tie the ATI bill to the last failed referendum on the Bill of Rights should not be tolerated by any well meaning Zambian. Assertions that the ATI bill cannot be presented before the National Assembly simply because its provision in the Bill of Rights was rejected by the people during the last failed referendum are not only disheartening but also regressive.
The PF Government has on many occasions stood on many platforms including the floor of parliament promising not only to take back the ATI Bill to parliament but also enact it into law in the shortest possible time. These promises were made way before the failed referendum was held. The Civil Society Coalition on the ATI is therefore very disappointed because such assertions are contradicting the commitment shown in the past by the Patriotic Front (PF) government to have this law enacted.
Hon. Kambwili is better placed to defend and ensure fulfillment of the PF governments commitment. As such we appreciate and support the inclusion of an ATI clause in the Bill of Rights because it is a matter of right not privilege. However, we do not subscribe to the idea of tying it to the failed referendum because it is a stand-alone and important matter, which can be enacted through an Act of Parliament. We as a Coalition take great exception to any attempts to stall the ATI process once more on account of a non-issue.
We would like to place it on record that one of the contributing factors that led to the failure of the last referendum was on account of lack of access to information because majority of the people were asked to participate in the process without adequate information especially on the content of the Bill of Rights. Thus, the failed referendum reinforces the need for urgent enactment of the ATI law to ensure success of the next referendum.
The coalition on ATI comprising of: Operation Young Vote (OYV), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF), Transparency International Zambia (TIZ), Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD), Jesuit Centre Theological Reflection (JCTR), Press Freedom Committee (PFC), Dialogue for Development (D4D), Common Cause Zambia (CCZ), Non-Governmental Organisation Coordinating Council (NGOCC), Actionaid Zambia and others maintain its position that this law is meant to enhance citizens participation in governance and development, address transparency and accountability challenges our country faces among many benefits. This is the genesis and basis of the cry for ATI law.
Since the ATI law focuses on development issues that benefit all and especially the poor, it is only fair and right for PF government to facilitate its delivery to the people in line with their sustained and continued promise to bring this matter to its logical conclusion. We wish to further retaliate that the ATI Law is for the greater benefit of ordinary people because its about the public accessing information from institutions that channel development.
It is evident that the country has spent unlimited resources and a lot of time on the ATI, therefore, at this very advanced stage of the process, we as a country must not entertain any attempts to obliterate all the gains made in advancing the ATI law.
The Coalition on ATI is of the resolve that the ATI Bill must be tabled as a matter of urgency in the current sitting of parliament and prior to this it must be published in the Government Gazette as per the requirement of the Law. It is also the Coalitions demand that stakeholders be availed the draft ATI Bill before it is presented to parliament.
In conclusion the CSO ATI Coalition would like to assure its membership and citizens across the country that the Coalition shall never relent in its push and demand for people centered laws such as the ATI and would not be discouraged by the attempts to tie the ATI law to the failed referendum because it is not in the best interest of the progressive aspirations of the Nation.
We therefore, take this opportunity to appeal to Hon. Kambwili to ensure that the process of enacting an ATI law is rekindled and given life without delay.
Acting JCTR Director
For and On behalf of The Coalition on ATI