President Hakainde Hichilema won a landslide election victory in August last year, beating incumbent Edgar Lungu, in part on a promise to clean up corruption, untangle the country’s myriad debt woes and promote free media environment.
Mr Hichilema has on many occasions assured the media that his government will create a friendly and conducive environment were journalists are free to carry out their work.
He has thus far held three press conferences with the latest one on 25 April as a show of his commitment to media freedom.
On 04 May he joined journalists at a media conference to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day commemorations at Mulungushi Conference Centre in Lusaka and made several commitments, including enacted of the Access to Information Law.
He has also used his Facebook page to give assurances that his government will not shy away from the media.
While the President has continued to engage the media, his ministers and top government officials have been avoiding to answer queries from the media.
MakanDay, Zambia’s nonprofit investigative newsroom, a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network(GIJN) and has joined collaborative reporting networks such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Finance Uncovered now publishes excepts from some of the letters which have been written to some ministries, departments and parastatals.
On 27 April, MakanDay wrote to the Mines Safety Department in Ndola and the two-paragraph response was only received on 06 May 2022. Despite taking a month to reply, it was to reroute the process.
On 19 April, the office of the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance received a letter from MakanDay for comment on one of the MakanDay stories. But there has been no response from the Ministry.
On 11 April, MakanDay sent an email to Zesco in which it gave the company an opportunity to comment and correct what Zesco may have considered to be inaccuracies in MakanDay’s findings in one of its yet to be published stories. Zesco has equally not responded to MakanDay's query.
Zesco’s failure to respond to media queries is compounded by the rigid centralisation of decision-making in the civil service and state-owned enterprises. This is further exacerbated by the strict observance of hierarchy, where line managers have to refer to their superiors, often even for routine queries.
Consequently, public officials’ behaviour towards journalists is fueling speculation that commitments to greater transparency by President Hichilema are at best, impractical rhetorical pronouncements. As demonstrated by MakanDay’s recent experience, government transparency will remain a mirage and may not be fulfilled if the media is left in the dark.