Access to Information (ATI), sometimes referred to as Freedom of Information (FOI), or the Right to Knowledge (RTK), is the idea that information that is held by state/public institutions or private institutions conducting business that is meant for public bodies and has implications for the public should be made available to the public. ATI is founded on the fact that public institutions or the state perform functions on behalf of the public thus the information it holds is for the public; the public should therefore have access to it. It ought to be simple and straightforward for members of the public to acquire information such as the job descriptions of government officials, government records, functions of public bodies, etc. This right is subject to various exceptions that include public security, information relating to a private individual and other limitations. However, these exceptions must be minimal and not designed to restrict the overall access to public information.

Access to information is a fundamental human right that is provided for in various international and regional instruments such as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR). Zambia, having ratified both the ICCPR and ACHPR, has an obligation as a Member State to ensure that it enacts laws that facilitate the actualisation of this right. While the Zambian Constitution does not specifically provide for ATI as other Constitutions such as the South African and Kenyan Constitution do, Article 20 of the Constitution of Zambia does provide for Freedom of Expression and it states that “Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expressions, that is to say, freedom to hold opinion without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons, and freedom from interference with his correspondence”. This consequently means that Zambians have the right to receive ideas and information without interference.

An ATI Act has been planned for as far back as 1991 when the country reverted to a multi-party state. The advocacy for the ATI Act was at the time spearheaded by journalists who believed that the enactment of this law would enhance transparency and bring about good governance. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) had, before it had gotten into power, made campaign promises to enact such an Act however, the campaign promises were never realised. While there have been two successive draft Bills related to access to information, neither has been enacted into law. As at March 2022, the United Party for National Development (UPND) government stated that the current ATI Bill will have to be taken to all ten provinces of Zambia for further input from stakeholders, even though it had previously been subjected to stakeholder input. Stakeholders have bemoaned this decision by the government as they believe this will cause further delays to enact a law that has been thirty years in the making.

Perhaps the reason this Act is yet to be enacted is because the public are either oblivious to the importance of this law, or, have a widespread misunderstanding of who the law is meant for. The ATI is beneficial for all the people of Zambia. In order for the public to effectively participate in the governance of the country, it is of utmost importance that people understand how the government works. In order to do this, they must have information relating to the various government institutions and workings of government.

In conclusion, every Zambian must get involved in advocating for the ATI Act as it is vital that every citizen has access to information; whether it is for participate in good governance, for journalistic purposes, for research purposes, to understand the functions, roles, and responsibilities of a particular government office or for any reason.

Chapter One Foundation is a civil society organization that promotes and protects human rights, constitutionalism, the rule of law and social justice in Zambia. Please follow us on Facebook under the page ‘Chapter One Foundation’ and on Twitter and Instagram @CofZambia. You may also email us at infodesk@cof.org.zm