MAKAME (not his real name) is pleased with the government’s decision to allow a legal process to establish the Media and Access to Information Act (ATI).

For him, this law is a great saviour for the future of freedom of expression as enshrined in section 18 of the 1984 Zanzibar Constitution.

Makame, a journalist, says the act will close the information gap that has been existing for decades between citizens and duty bearers particularly on public spending.

“The law will provide access to information, specify the scope of public information to which the public is entitled, establish an independent media regulatory body and defining its responsibilities, promoting transparency and accountability of the duty bearers,” according to him.

He argues that for the watchdog role of the media, the law will increase transparency and accountability in the way the government spends funding baskets such as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), annual government allocations and development partners’ funds.

“Our efforts to demand better media and access to information law prior to this have not been fruitful. Local government officials did not cooperate with the media when we requested procurement documents where we were skeptical about the costs and effectiveness of some development projects,” he explains.

But he seems relieved by the government’s commitment to support the legal process of establishing such a media law as the community will now be able to demand information on various development projects, including procurement documents to determine the proportion of planned and expended budget in each project.

Makame is one of the journalists who participated in the drafting process of the media and access to information act, initiated by media stakeholders and submitted to the government.

He believes that if the law is passed, the poor relationship that exists between the media on one side and duty bearers on the other side will be reduced.

“The relationship between the community and the executives has not always been good when journalists have been denied some information,” he says.

“We were not happy in the way we were treated, but we had nowhere to go. I believe the law we are proposing will minimize the challenge,” said Makame.

Hawra Shamte, a senior journalist, thinks many of the challenges facing journalists would have been avoided if there had been a free flow of information between the citizens and the executives.

She said the gap between the people on the one side and the duty bearers on another side, which was an obstacle to the realization of social and economic aspirations, could be resolved by the proposed legislation.

“We found that due to poor operational frameworks in our existing Zanzibar media laws, journalists were not performing their duties properly and freely so the expectations of consumers (citizens) were not met, which is why we have proposed amendments to the law,” she explained.

Ramadhani Haji, like Makame, has high expectations for the proposed media law, as it will increase accountability in development plans between citizens and executives, people’s participation in budget implementation in local government and transparency.

“The draft could help the involvement of local government leaders to encourage citizens to participate in development activities to achieve the desired change in their areas,” he said.

He further said the proposed law can help remove the limitation of citizens to monitor reports and hold duty bearers accountable in the allocation and spending of development resources, especially in local governments.

He the existing information gap has created a climate of mistrust between the public and executives with whispers and rumors on the performance of government activities growing.

“Since there is an information gap, some people spread false information about the government’s performance,” he said, adding that the proposed law could alleviate that challenge and create a climate of trust between duty bearers and citizens.

“The law can help executives and citizens to closely co-operate with each other when setting up and implementing development projects,” he said.

But, Ramadhan fears that all these efforts will be in vain if the law takes too long to be passed and eventually implemented.

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