Zimbabwe plans to relax security and media laws

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Zimbabwe’s strict security and media laws criticised by opponents as undemocratic will be relaxed by the end of the year, an official document showed.

The unity government formed last year by President Robert Mugabe and his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has stabilised the economy but has yet to implement many of its agreed political reforms.

The fragile coalition has been marred by policy differences between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) but its new programme sets a target of the end of this year to repeal and amend contentious security and media legislation.

Mugabe’s critics say the president, who has ruled since 1980, has used the laws to keep opponents in check and extend his stay in power and foreign donors have withheld funding until the new government implements political reforms.

The government plans to introduce at least 17 amendments to laws including the Public Order and Security Act, which police have used to ban protests by the opposition and unions, a document seen by Reuters yesterday shows.

The changes will also repeal the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, used to ban foreign journalists from working permanently in the country.

Access to information

A Freedom of Information Bill allowing journalists greater access to official information will be introduced, while a Media Practitioners’ Bill will be tabled in Parliament to regulate the conduct of journalists.

Cabinet ministers will now be required to make monthly reports to the council of ministers chaired by Tsvangirai, who is in charge of government policy.
“The programme sets clear targets on which the government’s performance can, and should, be judged,” Tsvangirai said in a foreword to the document.
“This document is also intended to help members of parliament in their task of holding government ministers to account for their performance.”

The government also plans a land audit to establish cases of multiple farm ownership.

The MDC has previously said Mugabe’s land seizure drive that started in 2000, in which white-owned commercial farms were redistributed among blacks, largely benefited the 86-year-old veteran leader’s allies, an allegation he denies.
“Timely implementation of this critical dimension (land audit) is likely to promote accountability and directly enhance productivity in the agricultural sector. It is therefore one of the critical targets under the government work programme,” the document said.

Source: www.af.reuters.com