Government says it will go ahead to table the adulterated Access to Information Bill (ATI) despite stiff opposition from civil rights groups.
Leader of the House Francis Kasaira said the Access to Information bill is among the 15 bills carried over from the last meeting of parliament that will be tabled in the coming meeting which starts on Friday.
“We know some people do not want the bill to be tabled but as government we have an obligation to the people of Malawi and we will table it,” said Kasaira who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Bill was gazetted on February 19 2016.
But local media watchdog, Misa-Malawi and other civil rights groups accuse the government of doctoring and adultering the bill, saying it would be one of the worst laws in the world if parliament passes it as it is.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) also added their voice expressing their “disappointment” at the “undemocratic elements” in the gazetted bill.
Some sections which are vital according to campaigners of the proposed law have been removed by government after President Peter Mutharika declared them ‘inconsistent’.
President Mutharika and his Cabinet have removed Clause 6, which invalidated any other laws restricting the disclosure of information and stopped future parliaments from passing laws which infringed on the rights and obligations of the ATI law.
The clause now reads: “This Act shall apply to information in the custody or under the control of any public body, relevant private body or other information holders listed in the Schedule hereto.”
But CHRR and Cedep executive directors Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence respectively, told Nyasa Times that said the gazetted Bill is an affront to transparency and accountability it purported to entrench in the country, much as it portrays a serious aversion to democratic tenets on the part of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The two groups call the chopping of important sections as a “missed opportunity for democracy.”
Among concerns are the introduction of fees for Malawians to access information to be determined by a public or private body “limited to reasonable, standard charges for document duplication, translation or transcription where necessary”, according to Clause 18.
The rights campaigners said charging of fees to access information is contrary to the spirit of the legislation, which is a realisation of Section of the Constitution under the Bill of Rights.
“The latest Bill only vindicates those of us who had long-held fears against President Prof. Peter Mutharika’s insistence to iron out ‘inconsistencies’ as well as ‘align the bill with other laws’ before tabling in parliament.
“Specifically we draw the attention of the nation to the following:
- Scrapping of a provision that information holders should disclose information in the public interest such as unauthorised use of public funds;
- The introduction of fees for Malawians to access to information
- Removal of provision which would have enabled people to demand information before the law was enacted.
“We find the aforementioned grey areas a regrettable attempt by government to render the Information toothless in this democratic dispensation”.
CHRR and Cedep said the information law, if enacted in its gazetted version, will fall short of addressing key issues such as Cashgate as well as other forms of power-abuse.
“It is in view of this that CHRR and Cedep are calling upon all well-meaning parliamentarians to reject the gazetted version of the Bill once tabled in parliament till such highlighted concerns are addressed in line with the Constitution of Malawi, the supreme law of the land,” reads the statement the two human rights groups sent to Nyasa Times.
According to the gazetted bill, government has removed Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) as the oversight body on the right to information.
New bills to come before parliament include Escom bill that will split Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi into two, one company for production of electricity and the other for marketing.
Kasaira said President Peter Mutharika will open parliament on Friday and legislators will debate the state of the nation address for a week before Finance minister Goodall Gondwe unveils the 2016/17 national budget.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :