Editor’s Memo

A prologue to a farce

By Vincent Kahiya

LAST week, our attempt to get a comment from Grain Marketing Board acting chief executive officer Retired Colonel Samuel Muvuti on grain deliveries to the parastatal provoked this response: “Handitauri n

emareporters ekuIndependent, takarimirana kudhara (I don’t talk to reporters from the Independent; we are enemies)”.

It is obvious that the colonel has not heard anything called public accountability. Muvuti’s response is symptomatic of a serious cancer of arrogance in government stemming from a clear failure to appreciate the role of the media.
The colonel, a recipient of the Award for Excellence in Products and Services from Spanish-based Trade Leaders Club — whatever that was for — regards us as enemies and as such not entitled to receive government information from his office.

He is wrong. Like a number of his colleagues in government, he needs to be educated on his role as a public servant and why newspapers ask questions. Progressive governments today articulate basic priorities as three core businesses — people, prosperity and preservation.

People need information and not bureaucrats, worse still an insincere one. Therefore, when newspapers ask questions, they do so on behalf of the people which a government is set up to serve. In the case of Muvuti, we intended to ask why millers were not getting maize and why farmers delivering maize to the GMB were not getting paid on time. The farmers want to know when the $500 billion recently allocated to the GMB will percolate down to their pockets. The money is simply not getting to them on time.

But one way to avoid accountability is super arrogance and declaring hostilities with the media.

Muvuti finds it easier to talk to “friendly” media who do not challenge him to account for his actions, thereby glossing over issues, rather than responding to enquiries from inquisitive media. Farmers sleeping at GMB depots waiting for their monies cannot live on promises that their problems will be solved because government has released $500 billion.

By the way, at $31 million a tonne, $500 billion will only purchase 16 130 tonnes of maize. Muvuti has an obligation to explain to the nation where government will get the $27,9 trillion to purchase 900 000 tonnes of maize expected to be delivered to the GMB.

A public official does not give information to the media on the basis of his affection for them. He is duty-bound to provide information because he is paid by the taxpayer to whom he must be accountable. Public officials are not accountable to their inflated egos or to their partisan sponsors.

Muvuti’s diatribe last week also brings to the fore what we have always highlighted — that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is a bad law and it is made worse by unprofessional public officials. There is all the evidence that they are not aware of their obligation under Aippa to provide information to the public. This is ample proof that access to information was never the real inspiration behind the enactment of Aippa. It was manifestly designed to abridge freedoms and to shield public officials from scrutiny. Can we trust the Information ministry to organise seminars to coach public officials on the value of public information management? This is an arduous task, especially changing the culture of hostility to information dissemination through the media.

This explains why despite promises that Zanu PF was moving into the Information Age, its website was last updated last year while the official government website is a silly caricature of cyber media.

James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, captured the importance of this information dissemination in governance in his often quoted warning: “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.” That is where we are.

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