Right to Information Law – Recipe to achieving Consumer Sovereignty in Zambia

Poverty has a deep and wide-ranging negative impact on any country’s economy and unless it is significantly reduced, development of any kind is bound to fail. Almost 46 years after independence, Zambia’s poverty levels stand at over 65% and the country is regarded to be among the poorest nations in the world.

Government has instituted several welfare schemes for the benefits of the impoverished but the question is how many people benefit from these.

In the past reports, the Auditor General’s Office (AGO) has revealed that billions of kwacha are either misapplied or stolen in the public service in Zambia. Not that the government is not allocating resources to certain sector/ministries/schemes but, due to the leakages in the system which need to be corrected.

Further, the revelation by our partner organisation, Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR), on the leakages that transpired in Luanshya’s Kasununu community school project were the Provincial Administrative Office failed to release and account for K12, 500, 000 meant for the school project is part of the many leakages that need to be addressed.

In this regard Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) International takes this opportunity to urge the Zambian government to enact the right to information Law which will help address such challenges and enhance people’s participation in the governance system.

Participation in governance is at the heart of any successful democracy. Citizens should not only participate during election time but on a day to day basis-when the decisions on policy, laws and development are being made and projects and activities are being implemented.

The right to information laws help improve the governance structure in any country and helps governments to detect some of these problems through citizen’s participation. The right to information will enable citizens detect misconducts on behalf of the government and help improve the system.

Further, making information known to the citizens is simply a part of normal government functioning because the public have a right to know what public officials do with their money and in their name.

All citizens are ultimately consumers of government services and the right to information including the right to basic needs are among the most important consumer rights. It is worth highlighting that the sole purpose of economic planning in, as far as possible, is to the satisfaction of consumer’s needs. And then, there is a logical, moral and political force in proposition that the right person to make the decision about the allocation of resources to her/his needs is the consumer him/herself.

Therefore, if accessing information especially from public offices is bureaucratic and difficult, then consumer sovereignty is undermined. It is undisputable that, that the government tries to meet the requirements under the right to basic needs, but because of the existing leakages in the system, most end users (consumers) don’t benefit. The right to basic needs and information are important for survival and dignified living.

Further, it is also worth mentioning that, having this Act on information in place is not a solution in its self but it’s a first step to sealing up the gaps that exist. For example using this Act may not get anyone a new electricity or water meter connection but it may help someone find out who is responsible for taking action on an application, what progress has been made, how soon one can/should have gotten the connection under the service norms of the department concerned and why action has been delayed in the presented case.

Lastly, Zambia should consider learning from other countries like India who have enacted such a law aimed at improving their governance structure and ensuring that there is transparency and accountability in the utilisation of public resources. India enacted this law in 2005 and this day is celebrated as their second independence day. This can also be replicated in Zambia. All that is needed is the political will and commitment