Media Owners and Managers in Malawi – through the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Malawi Chapter (MISA-Malawi) and the Media Council of Malawi (MCM), have petitioned president Peter Mutharika on the delay to table the Access to Information Bill during the current sitting of the National Assembly.
They have also called upon government to table the Bill before Parliament rises in December 2015.
In a petition released on Tuesday after their meeting on 6th of November 2015 at Malawi Sun Hotel in Blantyre to critically reflect on the progress towards the tabling of the ATI, the media owners and
managers have faulted government for not disclosing the inconsistencies the cabinet claimed were the reasons behind the failure to table the bill in parliament.
“During our introspection, we noted with profound concern that: Cabinet had not yet discussed and recommended the Bill to Parliament and as such, the Bill was not yet part of Parliamentary Business. When Cabinet eventually met on Tuesday, November, 17, 2015, they discussed and referred the bill back to the Cabinet Committee on Legal Affairs on grounds that it has “inconsistencies”. The “inconsistencies” have, however, not been disclosed to the public.
“Government has introduced substantive changes, without wide and effective consultations with the citizenry and concerned stakeholders and interests groups, to the proposed governance structure and obligations of civil society organisations (CSOs) to disclose information,” reads part of the pettition.
The petition adds, “Government, through the public statements by Your Excellency, Minister of Information and Leader of Government Business, has communicated confusing, contradictory and imprecise messages about the state of Government readiness to table the Access to Information Bill during the current sitting of parliament.
“In light of the foregoing concerns, we wish to remind your Excellency, as you are aware, that the right of access to information is a constitutional right, as per Sections 36 and 37 of the Malawi Republican Constitution as enacted in 1995, and its implementation or otherwise directly reflects on the constitutionality and quality of governance prevailing under any good regime.”
The right of access to information is an enabling right which gives citizens access to information to able them to enjoy, exercise and demand all other rights and as such should never be left to chance or whims of individual duty-bearers.
Among other things, “the right of access to information obligates Government to supply people with reliable and necessary information as a precondition for the realisation of political, economic and cultural aims and aspirations and also aims at protecting and promoting individual and collective good in Malawi rather than sectional interests;
“The right to access to information is an integral part of human rights in international instruments and it pleased Your Excellency when you drafted your Party Manifesto to include the enactment of the Access to Information law to support democratic governance in the country.”
The media bodies urge President Mutharika , as custodian of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, to take due diligence and g full responsibility by ensuring that: The government makes public the “inconsistencies” as identified by cabinet for the public and other stakeholders to get a better understanding of the problems.
The media managers and owners have therefore called upon government to urgently hold a meeting between the Legal Affairs Committee of Cabinet and the Task Force that drafted the ATI Bill be fine tuned to address the mentioned “inconsistencies”.
“Your Excellency use your executive powers to reject the adulterated version of the Bill and uphold the original version, which reflects the outcome of the inclusive international and domestic consultations that recommended a governance structure that establishes the Independent Information Commission and the “use of public resources” as justification for and scope limitation on private and CSO bodies’ obligations to grant access to information,” reads the petition signed by Misa-Malawi Chair Thom Khanje, Media Council of Malawi chair Proffessor Wiseman Chijere Chirwa and Mbumba Banda of Nation Publication Limited
ZBS Director Gospel Kazako, Times Group Managing Director Leonnard Chikadya, Capital Radio’s Arlene Osman and MIJ Fm Executive Director Dalitso Nkunika also signed the petition which Nyasa Times media has since endorsed.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :