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Corruption to continue if media freedom is not addressed, says MISA Zambia

(MISA/IFEX) - As Zambia is grappling with the effects of the unearthed corruption scam in the ministry of health involving billions of Kwacha, it becomes relevant to remind the government that transparency in running government and handling public resources is very crucial".

This situation could have been avoided if there was transparency in the way the resources generated in Zambia and given by donors are handled through laws that enhance access to information from public institutions.

However, when the media call for enabling laws that will facilitate access to information produced by public institutions, including those in the health sector, it is thought that the media want to use such laws to make it difficult for politicians to govern the country. This has resulted in the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill not being enacted since 2002 with promises coming year in year out.

This is despite recommendations from the Parliamentary Committee on Information and Broadcasting, that the bill be enacted. If the FOI Bill was passed into law in Zambia, some of these corruption scandals which have caused much damage could have been avoided.

If the FOI legislation was in place, the public and the media, through their right to access information, this scam could have been detected earlier. But since the government institutions only give information at will, the powers that be gag the media in the hope that governing the country will be made easier.

MISA Zambia is concerned that the freezing of support to the health ministry by some of the key donors such as Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the Dutch government is a source of concern because these donors are among cooperating partners who contribute towards 55 percent of the health ministry's required funding. This situation will be very grave for the poor Zambian people who can barely afford three decent meals per day and have limited access to expensive health facilities.

We, therefore, call on the government to ensure that it enact the FOI Bill and allow the press to operate independently so that such issues are nipped in the bud. The old saying "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure' is relevant in this scenario.

Good media laws are a key remedy to preventing and reducing corruption in Zambia. MISA Zambia would like to urge government to repeal repressive media laws and implement the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Acts of 2002 so that the media can be free to undertake its task of being the watchdog without interference.

The FOI legislation is meant to allow every member of the public, including the media, to access information from public institutions on how the money allocated to these bodies is being used, among others. It is meant to give a constitutional guarantee for access to information from such bodies.

We wish to appeal to all political agents, who think that beating up reporters into submission will make their governance easier, to stop the barbaric acts and respect the important role the media plays in the nation.

As can be witnessed today, billions of Kwacha have been lost, which many poor Zambians depend on because of lack of laws to enforce transparency.

Control of the media by ruling political party leaders in terms of what they publish will not help them either. Governance is a process that should allow citizens to participate through speaking out on issues they are concerned about and this right should be respected as it facilitates transparency and accountability.

It is clear for all to see that once people have full knowledge over issues and their concerns have been addressed, consensus is easy to obtain.

Further, we wish to urge the police to protect the media and partner with them in order to address and reduce corruption in Zambia.

Signed,

Henry Kabwe
Chairperson
MISA Zambia

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