By James Muonwa, Mashonaland West Correspondent
JOURNALISTS from both state-controlled and private media are up in arms against Chinhoyi Municipality for creating a bulwark to prevent them to access council’s public records.
They roundly condemned the local authority describing it,” the most-opaque and secretive” council in the country.
This came out during a media training workshop in Chinhoyi Thursday where the scribes accused the local authority of being opaque in its operations which residents are constitutionally entitled to be informed about.
Testimonials were given about the hustles journalists encountered while trying to access public documents at the municipality, including minutes of ordinary full council meetings.
An editor of a local community newspaper, expressed reservations about the municipality’s secrecy over its operations.
“I have personal experiences at Chinhoyi Municipality where l have tried to get access to certain information without any joy,” he said.
“Several visits to the office of Chamber Secretary Abel Gotora who is the custodian of the council minutes have been fruitless as he either avoids the press totally or fakes his own absence through his secretary. I have since given up and no longer go there seeking any information.”
A journalist with state-controlled Herald concurred, adding that unlike other local authorities across the country, Chinhoyi Municipality frustrates media practitioners by “systematically hiding” public interest information.
Another participant highlighted Chinhoyi Municipality public relations department’s lethargy to timeously propagate public information through platforms such as its official website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The calendar of events at the council is kept a closely guarded secret as if senior managers and councillors were conniving to conceal their shenanigans, journalists further said.
“We are not informed of dates when meetings are held while press conferences are a taboo to this council which has not held even a single one in the last 10 years. All we get are funny notices on mundane issues posted on WhatsApp groups.”
Chinhoyi Residents Association chairperson Clifford Hlupeko, who was invited to the workshop as a panelist, also testified to being denied vital facts and statistics by council officials.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) president Michael Chideme challenged Chinhoyi to take a leaf from the City of Harare which live-streams its ordinary full council meetings and other civic events for residents to keep posted on new developments and issues.
Chideme is also the communications manager at the Harare City Council.
The workshop’s lead trainer, Vincent Kahiya urged scribes to expose Chinhoyi Town Clerk Maxwell Kaitano and Mayor Garikai Dendera for hindering the free flow of information which should be in the public domain.
“If residents and journalists are comfortable with this nonsense council will continue behaving like that. Council will not change until those shenanigans are exposed. Write about it and give grounds for the residents’ association to agitate for better governance in council,” said Kahiya, a former editor who served at Alpha Media Holdings, publishers of NewsDay, The Standard and Independent.