Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) parliamentarian for Mchinji North East, Alex Chitete has described some sections in the Electronic Transactions Bill as “Draconian” not good for democratic country.
The E-Bill would fight cyber crime, regulate electronic money transactions and regulate online publications, among others if passed into law
Chitete making his contributions to the bill tabled in Parliament on Tuesday cited Part Four on Liability of Online Intermediaries and Content Editors and Protection of Online users as a section which has been drafted to monitor and punish Malawi’s online media.
If passed, for instance online publication and its editors would be compelled to register so that they take responsibility for defamation and character assassination cases.
MCP parliamentarian said it is not good for the house to pass the bill into a law without critically analysing the proposed legislation which infringes on the right of online media.
“Mr Speaker Sir, let me bring to attention to this honourable house section 28 subsection 2 of the bill which is on page 28 of the bill which says , ‘Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1),online public communication may be restricted in order to prohibit child pornography, prohibit incitement on taxi hatred, xenophobia or violence, prohibit justification for crimes against humanity, promote human dignity and pluralism in the expression of thoughts and opinions, protect public order and national security.
“This is purely against the democratic principle of rights to free press which our Constitution on section 36 does guarantee the media. This house must properly check these sections which need to be removed before we pass this bill into a law,” Chitete said.
Chitete further quoted Section 35 of the bill which he says is focused on controlling online publication content.
“Mr Speaker Sir, I know this section when it was being drafted it was specifically drafted for Malawi leading online publication Nyasa Times to silence them and ensure they close with a lot of lawsuits and this house should not support these draconian sections just to please few of us here,” said the lawmaker.
Mulanje South MP Bon Kalindo (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) suggested that the bill be referred back to the MediAcommittee.
He said: “What we are doing is rubber-stamping and we are being unfair to Malawians. I propose the Bill be referred back to the committee.”
Ironically, Kalindo is a member of the Media Committee and his comments were met with calls of “sabwera ku ma meeting ameneyo [He doesn’t attend meetings]”.
Under the Electronic Transactions Bill, the DPP led government is seeking to crack down on content of the internet including social media platforms such as Facebook, Instragram and Twitter.
The Bill seeks to tighten control of bloggers, online media, especially news websites, by making online news editors and social media commentators of such content liable for any publications which might threaten public order and national security.
MP Chitete expressed fears that in a bid to “protect public order and security” government could shut down online social media platforms such as Facebook, Instragram and Twitter using such legislation.
The other area is ‘Data protection’ and the bill says it provides for specific provisions in order to regulate online collection of personal information regarding users and imposing systematic information on the purposes of the data processing and the rights of the data subject.
It also hopes to provide legal foundation that will address internet-specific issues and challenges as well as protecting the public from cybercrime.
“The objective of the bill is to set up a responsive ICT legal framework that shall facilitate competition, development of ICT and the participation of the Republic of Malawi in the information age and economy,” reads the bill, emphasising that it purports to ensure that the development, deployment and exploitation of ICT within the economy and society and related legal provisions balance as well as protect community and individual interests, including privacy and data protection issues.
The other objective is where the bill seeks to address ethical issues in the use of ICT to protect the rights of children and the under-privileged.
It also seeks to define favourable tax policies that promote ICT products and services that originate from within the Republic of Malawi besides providing a responsive and efficient regulatory environment, promote economic subsectors, assets accumulation and tax activities that arise from ICT use.
“Meanwhile, the Malawian public shall be protected from undesirable impacts of ICTs including the spread of pornographic materials, cybercrimes and digital frauds,” the bill pledges.
Leader of the House George Chaponda proposed that the Media committee stage be deferred for the government to consult the committee, but Mangochi-Monkey Bay MP Ralph Jooma (People’s Party-PP) and Nkhata Bay Central MP Ralph Mhone (PP) protested that such a move would be unprocedural.
Said Jooma: “Standing Orders don’t provide for deferrement at committee stage but suspension. This is like we did not have a committee stage at all and no amendments were adopted.”
However, first deputy speaker Esther Mcheka Chilenje ended the process abruptly.
Once it becomes the law, it will put in place mechanisms that will safeguard the public from fraud, breach of privacy, misuse of information and immoral behaviour brought about by the use of ICT, according to government.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :