The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights has asked the Malawi government to provide the Commission with information on when the Access to Information bill will be tabled in Parliament and enacted.
Speaking in Banjul, Gambia after Malawi’s submission and presentation of its initial report before the Commission. The African Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Pansy Tlakula persuaded Malawi government to expedite the adoption of the Access to Information Bill.
Tlakula pointed out that accessible information is vital for citizens to make informed decisions and participate meaningfully in all matters of national interest.
The bill has undergone a number of reviews from a wide range of stakeholders, including MPs, civil society organisations, government ministries and judicial officers.
Due to political obstacles, the bill has not yet been enacted into law.
Malawi government through the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu pledged of government’s commitment to ensuring that Access to information bill is passed into law soon.
The African Commission Special Rapporteur applauded the Malawi government for its historic appearance at the commission and a good presentation but added on the need for Malawi to be “specific” on when the bill will be tabled in Parliament.
The Commissioner also commended Malawi government for the steps it has taken to strengthen the Communications Act.
“These measures if implemented will go a long way in strengthening the independence of MACRA (Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority),” he said.
However, he noted that the report despite acknowledging the challenges that Malawi Broadcasting Corporation faces in terms of “political abuse” especially during the elections,” it is not clear on what steps are being taken by the government to strengthen the independence of MBC,”
The highly respected Commissioner-cum human rights defender also quoted Malawi President Peter Mutharika’s inaugural speech on 5th June 2014 where he pledged of his government’s commitment to the tabling and passing of the bill.
Reacting to the development on behalf of Centre for Development of People (Cedep) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) who are represented in Gambia at the session, CHRR Human Rights Advocacy and Governance Coordinator Makhumbo Munthali said Tlakula’s remarks were a reminder call for Malawi on its commitment to ATI in view the forthcoming Parliamentary sitting in June.
“As Civil Society organisations, we perceive the remarks by the African Commission as a reminder call for Malawi government to honour its commitment to the tabling of the bill come the next sitting of parliament in June,” Munthali said.
He said the CSOs are not only interested in the tabling and enactment of the bill but also on what measures the government has and will put in place to ensure effective implementation of ATI once passed into law in the best interest of human rights for all
“The steps to strengthen the communications act by government are good and must be supported by all stakeholders if we are to enhance the independence of MBC and MACRA. We also appreciate government’s acknowledgement of the challenges facing MBC’s impartial coverage. This was good and must be commended.
“However, the problem of biasness of MBC is to a greater extent as a result of lack of political will by our successive governments since 1994 to open it up for all. For example, 1999 High Court judgment ordering MBC to provide fair election coverage was treated with contempt by the corporation until to-date.MBC has been and continues to act as a mouth piece of the ‘ruling party’ of the day’.
“Only when our politicians, particularly those in the ruling party, shall appreciate the importance of having an impartial state media for the consolidation of our nascent democracy and get committed in ensuring that this happens – that is seeing to it that MBC operates within the confines of the constitutional provision – then the prevailing complaints about MBC’s bias towards government and against critics will be history” argues Munthali
Malawi government, led by Tembenu, received huge applause for its historic maiden turn up at the Commission and its initial submission of the report for review which according to the Commissioners signalled Malawi’s commitment to its international obligations and respect for human rights.
The Commissioners asked other countries who were yet to submit their initial reports before the commission to emulate the good example portrayed by Malawi government.
Amongst the important dignitaries who have formed Malawi’s highly powered delegation in Banjul are the Malawi Human Rights Commission Sophie Kalinde, Solicitor General Dr. Janet Banda and Chief State Advocate Pacharo Kaira amongst others.
Malawi is expected to respond to all the questions presented to it by the Commission including those related to death penalty, mining , access to information, repealing of criminal defamation laws, Kayerekera uranium, women’s rights, sexual minorities, human rights institutions, refugees, prison conditions amongst others on 29th April 2015.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :