UPND Spokesperson Charles Kakoma says government must publish the Access to Information Bill so that stakeholders can scrutinize its contents.

And Kakoma says the timing of Cabinet’s approval of the bill is suspicious because government may be using it to divert stakeholders’ attention from the suspension of Prime TV’s license.

In a statement, Wednesday, Kakoma demanded the publication of the ATI Bill.

“The United Party for National Development, UPND wishes to take note of Cabinet’s approval of the Access to Information Bill as announced by Chief Government spokesperson Dora Siliya. However, we are appealing to Ms Siliya to publish the contents of the bill so that people are able to scrutinize them. This is not the first time the Patriotic Front government has issued statements to excite the people of Zambia on the Freedom of Information Bill with Justice Minister Given Lubinda in February 2017 assured stakeholders that his ministry had engaged other line ministries so that the contents of the bill is made available,” Kakoma stated.

“This was at the 2017 Universal Periodic Review Meeting organised by the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) and the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD).To date the draft bill has not been made available and now we are being told that it has been approved, contrary to what Mr Lubinda had promised the people of Zambia.”

And Kakoma charged that Cabinet only passed the bill to divert stakeholders’ attention from the suspension of Prime TV’s license.

“We are sure government is trying to shift attention from the condemnation it has received from local and international stakeholders over the closure of Prime TV for showing scenes on the attempted assassination of the UPND President Hakainde Hichilema in the Sesheke parliamentary by election,” Kakoma stated.

“As a party, we are suspicious because this approval comes at a time when there is heightened clampdown on media freedoms as well as shrinking media space in the country. It’s also shocking that a government which has hijacked, manipulated, threatened, cowed down and bought off a number of media houses for the sole purpose of monopolizing the dissemination of information would in a twinkling of an eye rush to approve a Bill whose content is only known to themselves. As a result UPND remains skeptical of the schemes of the PF government as the public is not aware of the contents of this Bill due to lack of adequate stakeholder consultation. It should not be a Bill meant to hide secrets and sweep dirt under the carpet in order to preserve the PF’s hold to power.”

Kakoma stated that Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Chanda Kasolo’s remarks that the Bill, once enacted into law, would specify the kind of information to be accessed by the public, would defeat the purpose of having the ATI law.

“Just last night, ZNBC quoted Information Permanent Secretary Kasolo as saying that the approved Freedom of Information Bill will indicate what type of information that the public can access. Such tendency to withhold information from the people will defeat the purpose of having a Freedom of Information Act. The original objective of the information law was to enhance transparency and accountability in order to empower people to make informed decisions. It is supposed to help the country in the fight against corruption, mismanagement of public resources and mal-administration,” stated Kakoma.

“Worse still, it is deceptive and self-contradictory on the part of the PF to hasten to enact the Access to Information Bill with the intent of gaining political mileage on one hand, while on the other hand shutting down media houses on the false pretext of unprofessional, unethical and biased media coverage.”