Govt must respect access to info

SOME seven weeks ago, the Zimbabwe Independent, working with Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ), wrote to government compelling it to release information relating to the use of public funds and in particular the controversial acquisition of Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) buses by Landela Investments (Pvt) Ltd.

Editor’s Memo

Faith Zaba

This was after several failed attempts to obtain information relating to the acquisition of hundreds of Zupco buses by the government in recent months.

Through our lawyer, Chris Mhike of Atherstone and Cook, we wrote several letters of demand to ministers Biggie Joel Matiza of Transport, Mthuli Ncube (Finance) and July Moyo (Local Government). We also demanded access to company files at the Registrar of Companies and also details of the deal from Zupco.

In one of the letters to the ministers, Mhike wrote: “They need full information regarding the recent purchase of buses for the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco), but despite their best efforts, Zupco and other individuals and institutions that are involved in the transaction, have not been forthcoming with the relevant details,” Mhike said. “This, therefore, is a formal request for detailed information … this request is anchored on various fundamental constitutional principles and governmental obligations that include good governance, transparency, justice, accountability and responsiveness.”

Mhike further said the secrecy that characterises various procurement deals that were recently entered into between “state-controlled/state-owned entities, the Government of Zimbabwe” and private players, including the purchase of buses, are incongruent with the outlined constitutional principles, hence the present quest for access to the requested information.
Only Matiza responded stating that Zupco fell under the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works.

As the world commemorates the International Day for Universal Access to Information this week, it is important to remind government why it is important to ensure that the country upholds the constitutional principles of governmental transparency and accountability. Access to information is a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution.

The commemorations on Monday were held under the theme “Access of Information — Saving Lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope”.

Access to information is a mainstay of strengthening democracy. It is a viable initiative in fighting corruption.

As we wait for government to avail information on the Landela deal, we would like to remind the state this week that access to information is guaranteed in the national constitution and it should, therefore, be respected in practice.

We totally agree with TIZ’s assertion that it is the state’s responsibility to promote and respect the right to access to information, pertaining to how the public resources which it is entrusted with are being utilised for the benefit of Zimbabweans.

“In this regard, TIZ continues to advocate for the adoption of principles of beneficial ownership disclosure and beneficial ownership transparency in the public procurement and the extractive industry sector. Such principles remain central to the fight against corruption which has become endemic. Beneficial ownership principles will enhance public trust and eliminate corruption risks in both sectors, thus contributing to the development of the country,” TIZ said on Monday.

As shown by the Independent and TIZ’s failed efforts to obtain details on the Landela and Zupco deal, access to information in Zimbabwe remains a challenge despite the guarantees in the national constitution. As long government continues to behave as if public funds are private funds, Zimbabwe will continue to be dogged by corruption scandals, including those that threaten the lives of millions of its citizens like the unforgivable corruption linked to Covid-gate.

Access to information is an essential tool in the fight against corruption, as it enables citizens to hold elected representatives and stewards of public funds accountable for the way they spend public money and the decisions they make.

In several countries like India, Uganda, Canada, Ireland and Thailand, access to information cases have uncovered corrupt practices involving payment of bribes, misappropriation of funds for education and key social services.

If President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is committed to fighting corruption, it is time that the state respects the right to information as is enshrined in the constitution and put it to practice. I challenge them to avail the complete details of the Zupco buses deal.

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