Cabinet records safe in ATI bill, fees to be paid for information access

Parliamentary media committee which was tasked to scrutinise Access to Information (ATI) Bill has recommended that cabinet records  should not be  part of the information which citizens should be given chance to access inlinewith  yet-to-be passed Bill.

Thyolera: Presented the report
Thyolera: Presented the report

Members of Parliament (MPs) under the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Information and Communication met various stakeholders to get their views  on the much-awaited ATI Bill which  is going to be discussed and passed into law.

Recently taxpayer-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC)  legal officer Peter Mota told the committe that cabinet records should be accessed.

But the committe said after thorough consultations, cabine record should not be part of the information to be accessed.


“The Committees observed that as a matter of international practice, Cabinet records are usually classified documents until they are otherwise declassified. It was noted that weighty and sensitive matters of state are discussed at the level of government and that granting public access to Cabinet records would potentially compromise legitimate state interest,” Maxwell Thyolera said in the House when presenting the committee’s report.

Thyolera said the  Committees further observed that the Official Secrets Act is an important national security legislation which deals with, among other matters, espionage against the country.

“The Committees observed, however, that the information which is protected by the Official Secrets Act is information that would in any event, be exempted disclosure on the basis of national security and defence exemption under Clause (24) of the Bill,” he said.

The Committees were of the view that there might be times when legitimate public interest might require people to have access to personal information of others.

“It was noted by the Committees that the bill has sufficient safeguards to ensure that such information is not disclosed unreasonably,” he said.

One such safeguard, according to Thyolera, is the requirement to notify a party whose personal information is subject of an access on application so as to be given them an opportunity to make objections to the disclosure of the information.

“It was thus, the views of the Committees that the bill should not totally exclude the application of the new law to personal information,” he said.

The Committees therefore, recommend that the exclusion of Cabinet records from the application of the law be maintained, said Thyolera.

On fees to be paid to access information, Thyolera said the Committees observed that under International Human Rights Law, it is permitted to levy “reasonable fees” to recover expenses incurred in letting the fee commission accessible to the requester.

“ The Committees further observed that to create room for information holders to waive the requirement for fees will potentially lead to abuse by those requiring access to information.  The Committees however, noted that the way Clause (18) was drafted created a misleading impression that a mere request for access for information would attract fees.  The truth of the matter, Madam First Deputy Speaker, is that fees will only be payable where the information to be accessed requires to be transcribed, translated or otherwise reproduced,” he said.

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5 years ago

Mandambwe must be mad at us guys.
How can he call us “zitsilu, stupid?
Pause a moment please.
Where do we find free news paper?
Free things are useless as far as i understand life.
How do you expect free info yet the radios, the TVs , the newspapers, the magazine the folks who translate and decode those intel will charge on that? Becareful with your mouth poor mandambwe

5 years ago

Painful to those who thought that they could just get any information they would need. I doubt whether they realized that there is indeed classified info that is protected.
Gives me an opportunity to charge Police if they would need info from me in retaliation to their refusal to give me a car accident statement. They demanded payment from me: amvekere: “chirichonse pano timalipira”; what a bunch of corrupt idiots!

5 years ago

Zitsiru inu. The payment of the fees will turn out to be a coy to prevent accessing the information. You have to learn to read between lines. This Thyolera is useless. If you put in conditions for access to the information you should know you are preventing the accessibility. The information holders will use those conditions to deny the accessibility by making it deliberately complicated and difficult to the extent that sometimes information seekers will be required to go to courts to seek intervention. A Malawi ena ndi opusa kwambiri. It seeems we fail to learn from the past. This… Read more »

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