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Controversy Over Zambia's Freedom of Information Bill Rises

In Zambia, President Levy Mwanawasa’s government is facing criticism following the failure to enact the freedom of information bill. Parliamentarians as well as the media and other interest groups warn that further delay would hinder the media’s watch-dog role over the government, particularly in the upcoming tripartite elections. The Lusaka government says parliament did not address the bill because there is not enough time to approve the freedom of the information bill before the elections.

Vernon Mwaanga is Zambia’s minister of information and broadcasting. He spoke with Voice of America English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey about the freedom of information bill.

“More than forty countries out of the one hundred and ninety one countries which have enacted freedom of information law. Another thirty like Zambia are in the process of doing so the rest are not in the process of even considering…this freedom of information law. Now when this law was withdrawn by my predecessor from parliament it was discovered that it has some flaws which need to be ironed out because in countries where they have been having these laws there are problems, practical problems which has to deal with like creating offices and institutions to be able to handle and process these requests which kind of information. And there also has to be an undertaking as to whatever information is collected is going to be used for a constructive purpose. Because you want to be sure that whatever information is collected is not going to be passed on to another party which has less than noble intentions of using it.”

He said the government is not “dragging its feet” on the freedom of information bill like opponents of the administration would like to portray. “Freedom of information laws is very complicated. They are not as simple as people think. Already in the United Kingdom, two months ago there was a workshop to review this issue of information laws. And we shared with our British colleagues some of the problems, which they’ve been having regarding implementation of freedom of information laws. These are all issues, which we have to factor into our own situation so that we can introduce appropriate amendments and put appropriate safeguards before the law can get back to parliament.”

Mwaanga added that his government is not in a rush to pass the freedom of information bill as Zambians have previously lived without it. He said the bill would be enacted following appropriate discussion.

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