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FPI welcomes cabinet’s approval of ATI Bill

Free Press Initiative – FPI says Cabinet’s approval for the introduction of the Access to Information (ATI) Bill in the National Assembly following the 12th Cabinet Meeting at State House on 27th July 2023 should lead to enactment of the law.

FPI Founder and Executive Director Joan Chirwa said her organization is part of the ATI Coalition that has been calling for the enactment of the ATI law as a matter of right.

She said the FPI hopes provisions of the Bill which will be tabled in the National Assembly remain progressive and to the benefit of the citizens under whose watch effective implementation of democratic principles rests.

Chirwa further said the decision has come at the right time because the need for information among Zambian citizens is high.

She said there has been a lot of disinformation of which the ATI would be a landmark platform for Government to be open enough in providing information around implementation of numerous projects that are of interest to the citizens.

The FPI Founder said journalists have also been having trouble with Access to Information because certain critical information has been denied to them.

“When we talk of a fight against corruption both in Government and the private sector, this cannot be done effectively when critical laws such as Access to Information are missing. Hopefully, we will see this ATI Bill being tabled in the National Assembly, being deliberated upon and going through all stages for eventual assent into law by the Head of State,” she said.

Ms Chirwa, however, said this is not the first time the country has reached the current stage because the MMD Administration once introduced the Bill in the National Assembly but was shot down in the first stage of it being in the House.

“We hope this is not what is going to happen. Therefore, there is quite a lot that needs to be done by members of parliament, especially those from the United Party for National Development, to ensure that when this Bill is taken to the House, it sees the light and not shot down because some people may think it is not going to serve their interests. At times, we see people getting worried about Access to Information. Only scared humans who know have a lot to hide can be worried about the access to information law,” she said. “What the current government must realize is that passing the ATI Bill into law is something that will also work in their favour because it will ensure that what they are trying to do now, such as fighting corruption and speedy delivery of government services to the people that voted them into power, does actually happen. People will now say ‘yes this was promised and it has been done’ because there is someone who is keeping an eye on what is going on on a daily basis.”

Ms Chirwa said the ATI is a progressive law that must be supported fully by both the ruling and opposition MPs.

“There has to be that realization that Access to Information is something that everybody needs. Everyone should ensure that they work together to pass this Bill into Law because it will benefit everyone. Yes, the UPND has taken a good step in the right direction in ensuring that this is pushed to where it is now but that is not an end in itself because there are other major processes ahead that will have to be put in place to ensure that they truly live by their campaign promises,” she said.

Ms Chirwa said it becomes difficult to make informed decisions where Access to Information is restricted.

“Let our MPs move together to ensure that Zambia is one of the countries that are making progressive steps toward ensuring that citizens are not denied Access to Information because that is their right,” she said.