The International Day for Universal Access to Information is commemorated on the 28th of September and is to promote access to information.
In 2002, Civil Societies around the world decided to commemorate the 28th of September as International Right to Know Day. The reason behind the day was to remind governments that there is a need for transparency. Whenever a government is not transparent, almost always it is infringing its people’s basic rights. In 2016, African civil society groups pushed to make the day official through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The theme this year was “leaving no one behind”. It recognises that every day new technologies are being developed and every day there are people who are seemingly being left behind and out of these global shifts and changes. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 urges all governments to adopt and implement constitutional policies and statutes which promote access to information.
In her speech this year, the Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said that “through implementing laws, investing in relevant infrastructure, and engaging civil society and young people in particular, access to information can protect human rights and drive sustainable development.”
Access to information is a right that allows citizens to participate in fair debate, empowers citizens and gives them equal opportunities. The right is important in that it lays the foundation for the realisation of the further right to freedom of expression and participation in public life. In Zimbabwe, the right to access to information is enshrined in section 62 of the Constitution. At present, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) governs access to information. AIPPA together with Public Order and Security Act (POSA) have been called the terrible twins of our law and are both in the process of being repealed as the Government has acknowledged that they are inconsistent with our 2013 Constitution. It is timely that this year’s IDUAI and theme comes at this stage in our legislative history. As Zimbabwean legislators carry out this task, they are urged to keep this year’s IDUAI vision in mind. The theme calls for inclusion of all persons. This means that each and every provision of the new laws replacing AIPPA and POSA should uphold the right of access to information and ensure that everyone has access. The theme of IDUAI calls for inclusivity: the government must make sure that truly no one is left behind.
Information has become one of the most valuable commodities in the world. From education, to indigenous knowledge, to history, to the preservation of heritage – information is an all-encompassing right. It is therefore imperative that Parliament sees that the Bills regarding information are not only transformative and progressive but are sensitive to the present needs of society. As Glen Greenwald once said, “secrecy is the linchpin of power … its enabling force. Transparency is the only real antidote.”
In this time of economic crisis in Zimbabwe, when ordinary people are increasingly impoverished and there is a great and growing disparity between rich and poor, we must claim our right to know how our taxes are being spent by the government, and who benefits from the use and disposal of our country’s rich natural resources.
Our government is urged to show this country’s commitment to democracy on the world stage and to remember the importance of access to information in securing open democracy and developing Zimbabwe for the benefit of all our citizens