Govt committed to liberalisation of airwaves

The Interview

The Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services is on a mission to open the airways and says the year 2020 will put to bed discussions on the issue. Our Political Editor Fungi Kwaramba (FK) sat down with the Permanent Secretary in the ministry for an in-depth understanding of efforts being undertaken to reform the information sector, including issues to do with the coronavirus pandemic.

FK: Why is it taking long to pass the Freedom of Information Bill?

NM: The Freedom of Information Bill (FoI) was gazetted on 5th July 2019 and as at 18th March 2020, the Bill had sailed through the third and final reading stage in Parliament.

The Bill currently awaits Presidential assent before it can be enacted into law — a process which was also affected by the lockdown restrictions and the President’s immediate focus on managing the Covid-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe. Prior to this important milestone, various administrative processes were instituted following the gazetting of the Bill in July 2019, which have led to the delay in having the Bill promulgated into law.

Firstly, after its gazetting, the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services which conducted nationwide public hearings during the period 19th–29th August 2019. Thereafter, the Portfolio Committee produced a report on its findings and recommendations on the provisions of the Bill to Parliament in early September 2019.

The Bill was then read in Parliament for the first time in September 2019 and it was thereafter referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) in the same month. The PLC in turn notified the Ministry in September 2019 of its concerns on some of the provisions of the FoI Bill and also notified the ministry to get the required certification, stating that the Freedom of Information Bill was not in contradiction with the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The ministry held discussions in September and October with drafters in the Attorney-General’s office as well as the Parliamentary Legal Committee to determine how best to factor in the proposed amendments to the FoI Bill. It was decided that amendments would only be factored in after the second reading stage to ensure that views emanating from the debates in Parliament would also be factored in, if necessary. Owing to the adjournment of Parliament, the certificate stating that FoI was not in contradiction with the Constitution was issued in December 2019.

In February 2020, the ministry, Justice Minister Honourable Ziyambi and members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services met to concretise provisions of the Bill which required amending. The finalisation of the draft Bill was done leading to its sailing through the final reading stage in Parliament in March 2020.

FK: Besides campus broadcasting licences, when can we expect to see more entities being granted licences?

NM: The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe invited applications to license six (6) private-owned television stations on 20th February 2020 with a deadline of 20th March 2020. However, due to the lockdown restrictions which affected the timely submission of application forms, the authority extended the deadline to 31st July 2020. Due administrative processes expected be carried out when the deadline lapses, it is difficult for the ministry to give an exact time-frame as to when the licence will be granted as the country is still on lockdown.

FK:When can we expect the Interception of Communication Act to be repealed?

NM: The Interception of Communications Act was enacted into law on 3rd August 2007, during the tenure of President R.G. Mugabe. The act provides for the lawful interception and monitoring of certain communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunication, postal or any other related service or system in Zimbabwe with the aim of promoting national security and dealing with other vices such as money laundering and criminal cartels. The Second Republic Administration has no intention of repealing the Act.

FK: Zimbabwe has not been spared by the global Covid-19 pandemic, how far have the steps taken by Government helped in curbing the spread of the virus?

NM: Zimbabwe has instituted several steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus such as: The measures have proven to be very effective as most of Covid-19 cases are imported — attributed to returning citizens; while communal cases are low for the time being. The Government is geared towards minimising the risk of a rise in communal cases as it will be very difficult to conduct contact tracing.

FK: Why is it that we have disturbing numbers of returnees testing positive, what steps is Government taking? Is it possible to shut the borders?

NM: Zimbabwe has numerous citizens who are working from or having visited foreign countries, some which are Covid-19 hotspots like South Africa and the United Kingdom, hence they are at a greater risk of contracting the virus. Returning citizens by law and right are allowed to come to Zimbabwe as and when they desire and the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception. The borders are closed for non-essential international travel, but remain open for returning citizens. The majority of the returnees may have lost their source of income as a result if the lockdown restrictions in the countries they were working in and hence the next logical thing would be to return home. The Government is, however, aware of the risk brought about by the returnees and have put in place measures where the returnees are sent to quarantine centres at national and provincial level, where returnees are tested for Covid-19 on day one and tested again on days 8 and 21 and released if they test negative. Those who test positive with mild symptoms are sent home for self-isolation, where they will be monitored by Health Officials.

FK: The Second Republic has declared corruption a public enemy. How far has Government gone in supplanting the vice?

NM: Government is not turning a blind eye to corruption and to this end, established the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to spearhead and investigate acts of criminal activities by public office bearers. To date, several bigwigs have been brought under ZACC’s scrutiny, showing that no one is bigger than the law. In order to curb corruption effectively, ZACC is being assisted by the National Prosecuting Authority and anti-corruption courts that were established in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare.–herald.cl.zw

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