In a press statement released yesterday, several civil society organizations have issued an urgent appeal for Zambia to enact an access to information law before the upcoming Summit for Democracy. The summit, which will be co-hosted by Zambia in collaboration with the United States of America, Costa Rica, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the Republic of Korea, is set to take place in March 2023.
The statement was signed by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), the Panos Institute Southern Africa, and MISA Zambia. These organizations have been advocating for access to information for many years and have noted the recent announcement by the Minister of Information and Media, Hon. Chushi Kasanda, that the Zambian government has approved the roadmap to enact the Access to Information law by June 2023.
In response to this announcement, the organizations have called on the government to expedite the process, saying, “We respectfully call on the government to use the feedback already provided by us and other stakeholders and urgently expedite the enactment of the ATI during the first quarter of 2023 as initially indicated. We urge the Government to enact the ATI law before the Second Summit for Democracy.”
The press statement also highlights the importance of access to information, saying, “Access to information is the oxygen of democracy that helps government to save resources and serve its people better. Access to public information is at the heart of democracy, fostering the observance of human rights and the rule of law. There cannot be true democracy without people’s informed participation, and informed participation cannot take place without citizens having the power of the law to give them the information they need.”
In a letter sent to President Hakainde Hichilema on 20 January 2023, the organizations also noted that all of the other co-hosts of the upcoming Summit for Democracy have access to information laws in place and that the absence of such a law in Zambia “undermines Zambia’s commitment to democracy, transparency, integrity, and anti-corruption.”
The press statement also references Zambia’s obligations under various African treaties, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which recognizes the right of every individual to access public information. The statement says, “In spite of being party to these treaties, the Government of the Republic of Zambia has not adopted an Access to Information legislation to give effect to these treaties.”
The organizations also mention the recent 42nd session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held at the United Nations in Geneva, where Zambia received 17 recommendations relating to the protection of civic space, including the adoption of an access to information law. In response to a request from President Hichilema, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission also conducted a governance diagnostic assessment and in its report released on December 28, 2022, the IMF noted, “The most significant governance weaknesses are demonstrated in the limited transparency and absence of an effective access to information framework…”
In conclusion, the press statement says, “Considering the great work and resources already invested into ATI development and advocacy since the 1990s, and the commendable progress of the last few months, we appeal to the Government of Zambia to urgently fast-track the enactment of the ATI Bill ahead of the Second Summit for Democracy. We believe that access to information is critical to fostering democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and it is time for the government to take this crucial step towards fulfilling its obligations and commitments.”