13 April 2014

Zambia: Benefits of Legislation At Your Fingertips

PUBLIC access to information on legislation and other policy issues help strengthen linkages between the Government and the general citizenry. With informed citizenry, Governments can be held accountable for their policies and citizens can be more empowered to participate positively in the affairs of the nation.

This allows also individuals to better understand the role of Government and the decisions made on their behalf.

To deepen understanding access to legislation and policies in the country, the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) has come up with an internet application dubbed "Legislation At Your Fingertips". This will be an interactive portal tool that will contain all legislations under the Government Gazette of March 2012.

PMRC head of monitoring and evaluation Salim Kaunda explains that the interactive portal was a user friendly tool for researchers, academia, legal practitioners, business enterprises and the general public alike.

Mr Kaunda also elaborated that it would further provide to downloadable Acts according to the individual ministries and provide additional content on specific subject areas as well as statutory bodies.

"PMRC believes that this tool will upgrade the quality of research, improve access to information and laws that guides them.

Legislation At Your Fingertips will further improve knowledge, promote responsibility and empower Zambians to apply certain sections of the law that pertain to their careers and work," he said.

Mr Kaunda PMRC affirms that this would enable citizens to scrutinise the actions of Government and lay a basis for debate on various national issues.

For the private sector, he assures that access to information on legislation would result in having open tendering, open competition as result more efficient market place of ideals and products.

Mr Kaunda believes this tool would be embraced by all sectors of the economy as it had been developed to unlock Zambian potential. Justice Deputy Minister Keith Mukata thinks the information portal would help the legal practitioner access legislation at their finger tips.

"Sometimes you will find that a lawyer in court is labouring on repealed piece of legislation but this portal will help such instances be avoided and reduce on time," Mr Mukata says. He says sometimes delays in delivery justice were not due to judges but lawyers who ask for more time to research cases.

"Access to justice starts with information on law because it is difficult to seek redress if you have no information," he stated. Mr Mukata feels the portal would provide easy access to legislation which would create openness and accountability in the legal system.

PMRC vice board chairperson Alex Ng'ona says the portal would help not only students pursuing law profession but also others.

"Everything we do is affected by legislation be it national economy, social and cultural issues hence the need for the citizenry and the student populace to familiarise themselves with laws to avoid being caught at the wrong side of the law," Dr Ng'ona says.

He is of the view that the initiative by the PMRC would ease the cost involved in buying big volume books regarding Zambian legislation. Dr Ng'ona, who is a political science lecturer at the University of Zambia, adds this would also encourage citizens to engage in informed debate about national issues rather than debating on issues without information.

Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) director general Chibamba Kanyama also stated that legislation plays a vital role in the business environment. "With this, lawyers will no longer rule our minds because we will be accessing information just by the click of the button," he said jokingly.

Mr Kanyama, a former broadcaster, says journalists should play their role in ensuring that information about legislation reaches the people in the rural parts of the country.

"We have a mandate of ensuring that people out there get as much information as possible for them to be part of the development agenda of the country, "he adds.

Having information can reduce social and economic inequalities that exist in society.

Mr Kanyama also says there was urgent need for greater awareness on financial matters for the business sectors on business registration, licenses and other legal requirements thereby support business development in the country.

Parliamentary Committee on Commerce and Industry member Felix Mutati urges PMRC to make sure that the programme was accessible.

"In the country we have a problem of usability, accessibility to most of the websites which inhibits informational flow," Mr Mutati, who is Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) Member of Parliament for Lunte Constituency, observed.

Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD) Luena Member of Parliament Gertrude Mwambwa Imenda wondered how the portal would benefit the people in rural parts of the country who lack access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

But PMRC executive director Michelle Morel responded that the informational flow to the rural parts of the country would reach through the networks with community radio stations that would be packaging information for the people to be aware of the existence of certain legislation.

Ms Morel pledges that the organisation would continue promoting public understanding through research and education.

"Our core function as PMRC is encourage debate on social and economic policy issues critical to poverty reduction by disseminating research based reform proposals and supporting Government machinery in recommending policy critical to national development agenda," she assures.

Elias Sakala, a student at Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE), commended PMRC for coming up with such an innovation.

The initiative will allow the people get enlightened on different pieces of legislation which affect all sectors of life.

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