11 Feb ZIMBABWE MEDIA COMMISSION GENERAL CIRCULAR NUMBER 1 OF 2021: OBLIGATIONS OF PUBLIC ENTITIES, PUBLIC COMMERCIAL ENTITIES AND STATUTORY OFFICE.
TO: ALL PUBLIC ENTITIES, PUBLIC COMMERCIAL ENTITIES AND STATUTORY OFFICES
- The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) is one of the five Chapter 12 Independent Commissions whose purpose is the entrenchment of a democratic society driven by respect for the Constitution, rule of law, democracy and human rights among other objectives. One of the Commission’s objectives as provided by Section 62 of the Constitution and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [Chapter 10:33] is to promote accountable governance through facilitating public access to information held by public entities, public commercial entities and statutory bodies for the purposes of transparency, accountability and protection of a right.
- In line with Constitutional provisions and the FOIA, the ZMC is required by law to monitor compliance with Constitutional provisions across the public and private sectors, to receive complaints from the public and to take appropriate action where necessary.
- Under the FOIA, the Commission is required to review decisions relating to access to information held by public entities and to rectify any failure to meet prescribed standards. The Commission receives appeals from members of the public who are denied access to requested information as per the provisions of the law.
- While the FOIA was signed into law on 1 July 2020, the implementation framework in the form of regulations was only gazetted on 15 September 2021 through Statutory Instrument 229 of 2021, “Freedom of Information (General Regulations), 2021”.
- The regulations give all public entities, statutory offices and public commercial entities a period of six months to put in place all the necessary arrangements for responding to applications for information in terms of the Act. This six-month moratorium will end on 14 March 2022.
- Obligations of Public Entities, Public Commercial Entities and Statutory Offices in terms of the Principal Act and Statutory Instrument 229 of 2021
The regulations, as read with the principal Act, obligate all entities as listed below to have the following in place by 14 March 2022.
- Entity: means a private entity, public entity, public commercial entity or statutory office.
- Private entity: means an entity other than public entity, public commercial entity or statutory office as long as that entity collects and holds information on public individuals or holds information which is in the public interest or for the protection of a right.
- Public Commercial Entity: means a company or other commercial entity which is owned or controlled by the State or by a person on behalf of the State.
- Public Entity: has the meaning given to it in the Public Finance Management Act [Chapter 22:19].
- Statutory Office: means an entity created by an Act of Parliament.
- Organizational Profile
In terms of Section 3(1), all entities as listed above are required, before 14 March 2022, to publish information concerning the entity which should include the following:
- A description of the functions of the entity;
- A list of departments or agencies under it;
- Subjects or activities handled by each department or agencies;
- The title and business address of the Principal Officer;
- The location or address of each department or agency;
- Operating hours of the entity and its departments and agencies;
- A description of areas or subjects on which the entity holds records and the categories of records held on each subject; and
- Any other information which the Commission may prescribe in consultation with the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services.
An entity is required to publish, within six months, whenever there are any changes to the above published information.
All entities are required to submit to the Commission the information as published and of any changes.
- Duty to disclose information
In terms of Section 5 of the principal Act, every public entity, public commercial entity or statutory body is required to have a written Information Disclosure Policy through which it discloses information in the interests of the public accountability or that which is required for the exercise or protection of a right.
- Voluntary Information Disclosure Policy
The law does not prevent or discourage an entity from publishing or giving access to any information, including information exempt from disclosure in terms of the FOIA, if the entity so wishes.
- Language of access to a request for information
Important to note is that in terms of Section 16 of the Act, information must be provided to an applicant in such an officially recognised language as per the request of an applicant.
- Appointment of Information Officers
The FOIA designates the Head of an entity as the Information Officer. However, for the day to day implementation of the Act, Section 4 of the regulations provide for the appointment of an Information Officer to assist members of the public in accessing information held by that entity. The appointment of an Information Officer, however does not exonerate the head of that entity from his duties.
All entities as listed should appoint Information Officers before 14 March 2022. All listed entities should publish the names and contact details of Information Officers and submit such names to the Commission.
The duties of an Information Officer are listed in Statutory Instrument 229 of 2021.
While an Information Officer may delegate his or her duties and functions he or she shall remain accountable for the discharge of those functions and duties.
- Duty to create and keep register of applications
In terms of Section 7 of the Regulations, an Information Officer is required to create, maintain and monitor a computer based tracking system where an electronic register of applications shall be kept. The register shall include or capture the following:
- An application number;
- The name of the applicant;
- The date of the application;
- A summary of the applicant’s request;
- The date the response was sent to the applicant;
- Where the application was refused, to state the specific clause relied upon with an explanation of the reasons; and
- Whether an appeal was filed and the outcome of that appeal.
- Submission of Reports to the Commission
In terms of Section 18 of the principal Act, every head of an entity is required to submit to the Commission annually a report stating the following:
- Applications or requests for information handled or received by the entity;
- Requests for access to information granted in full;
- Requests for access to information refused in full or partially and the number of times a specified provision of the FOIA was relied on to refuse access; and
- Requests in which the stipulated periods were extended.
- Fees payable for accessing a record
Subject to Section 17 of the principal Act, an entity is required to publish fees payable for accessing any record under it. The fees should not be exorbitant but fair so as to be in line with the spirit of the Constitution and the FOIA.
- Establishment of Public Information Appeals Committee
The Zimbabwe Media Commission is required to establish a Public Information Appeals Committee whose major objective is to expeditiously determine matters on appeal.
N.B For any further information or queries please email email@example.com or call 0772 497 483 (Tariro Shoniwa)
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER