President Peter Mutharika on Thursday vowed to veto an Access to Information (ATI) bill if it goes with what he described as inconsistencies, rendering the three hour audience with media owners and managers useless.
Leader of the media owners and managers, Professor Chijere Chirwa, who is also the chairman of Media Council of Malawi said he was surprised with the stance taken by the President.
Chijere Chirwa, a professor at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, stressed to the President the importance of ATI legislation in fostering accountability, reducing corruption and removing mistrust between government and its citizens.
“The right of access to information protects and promotes the collective good in a country. It is an integral part of human rights. We, therefore, request you as custodian of the Constitution to ensure that this bill is tabled during this March sitting of Parliament.”
But Mutharika said he was against two sections in the bill, a section that prohibits the repealing of the would be law in future and another one that would allow people access information even before the law became into effect.
“I am against Section 6 paragraph 2 that restricts future parliaments from changing it. This is unacceptable. I will not sign this bill into law if this section is maintained. I can’t accept it. Future parliaments can even repeal the Republican Constitution as long as procedures are followed,” Mutharika said.
He also said it was wrong to pass the law that would allow people access information which happened before the law came into effect, saying retrospective action does not happen.
“This provision does not make sense. This kind of legislation is wrong under Common Law. If this passes in parliament, I will veto the bill,” said the President.
Mutharika said this is what cabinet agreed and he has no powers to reverse a cabinet decision because, he said, it is a collective responsibility.
Chijere Chirwa asked Mutharika to clearly explain to Malawians and various stakeholders his reservations with the bill in its draft form and reject any attempts at adulterating it, especially on the establishment of an Independent Information Commission which would be responsible for oversight of the legislation.
Mutharika said Malawians should decide if the law is good and not to be pushed by international community.
“Malawians should decide what is good for them,” he said, adding that if Malawians feel ATI is good for the country, it will be passed into law.
Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu said the draft bill has been circulated to relevant bodies for scrutiny ahead of a cabinet legal affairs committee meeting on Monday on the same.
Chijere Chirwa said later the media owners and managers will continue engaging Mutharika and his government on the matter.
Media watchdog Miss Malawi legal advisor Mandala Mambulasa and Tembenu clashed on a point of law several times in the presence of Mutharika and reporters who were allowed to sit in during the closed door session and the recording was aired on MBC.
Mutharika’s administration has come under fire from various stakeholders, including media owners, managers, civil society and donors, for failing to table the ATI Bill.
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