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.
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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :