The Zambia Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) says government’s explanation that the Access to Information Bill has taken long to go to Parliament because the National Assembly has a backlog of laws to enact, is a clear indication that the State does not consider the media as a priority sector.

During the World Press Freedom Day commemorations at Government Complex in Lusaka on Wednesday, Justice Minister Given Lubinda said the ATI has been delayed because government has a backlog of laws to enact.

But JCTR Executive Director Fr. Leonard Chiti who was speaking on behalf of other Coalition partners at a press briefing at JCTR offices in Lusaka, said the minister’s excuse was just the latest in the catalogue of many excuses heard before.

“It could be poor planning, if it is true. It probably indicates that the ATI Bill is not featuring very higher up among a list of priorities. One of the indications we can see whether they’re quite serious about taking the Bill to Parliament is to look at the list of Bills they’re going to take in the next session. If it is not there, then we should forget it. If they’re serious, there could be some indications,” Fr Chiti said.

The JCTR Executive Director said he was still hopeful that the current Minister of Information and Broadcasting will not fall in the same “web” of lies but take the Bill to parliament.

“The predecessors to the current minister have all sweet-talked us but did nothing to take the Bill to parliament. It is our hope that the current minister Hon. Kampamba Mulenga does not fall in the same web,” said Fr. Chiti.

“When the government and quasi-governmental agencies perform under a veil of secrecy, people are denied the right to know about public affairs, and the press is only able to speculate and subsist on rumours. Secrecy allows back-room deals to determine public spending in the interests of the few rather than the many.”

And Operation Young Vote Executive Director Guess Nyirenda described government’s latest excuse to delay the ATI Bill as “lame” and a “scapegoat”.

“As a coalition, we take this latest excuse as a scapegoat. I think it is very lame as an excuse to be given that it is because of a backlog of Bills that were taken to parliament then the ATI doesn’t feature. I think it is unfair and also unfortunate because for us we see the ATI as a law that will increase the participation of citizens in the governance,” Nyirenda explained.