Malawi Parliament has been urged by civil society organisations to reject the adulterated Access to Information Bill (ATI) when government tables it in Parliament.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) said in a statement made available to Nyasa Times expressing their “disappointment” at the “undemocratic elements” in the gazetted ATI.
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 in a joint statement signed by CHRR and Cedep executive directors Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence respectively, the two human rights organisations 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 in part.
According to the gazetted bill, government has removed Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) as the oversight body on the right to information.
Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango justified changes on MHRC, saying government wants to “shorten the process and remove bottlenecks” and that the commission has no capacity to handle the oversight role.
He said instead the courts will be used in place of MHRC if people have complaints about not getting information as requested.
The Bill was gazetted on February 19 2016 and has since appeared on the Order Paper of Business for the ongoing Mid-year Budget review meeting of Parliament under notices as Bill No. 1 of 2016.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :