CHRR urges repeal of subsidiary legislation that contradict Access to Information law

The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has urged the President Lazarus Chakwera administration to review and urgently repeal all acts of Parliament and subsidiary legislations that are contradicting the Access to Information law  for implementation of the Act to be successful.

Kaiyatsa: There are still numerous statutes in Malaw that promote government secrecy and withholding of public information.

CHRR acting executive director, Michael Kaiyatsa, in reaction to Chakwera’s inaugural State of the Nation Address (SONA), expressed disappointment with President’s apparent oblivion’ to the numerous obstacles that pose a serious threat to the successful implementation of the Access to Information Act.

Kaiyatsa said his organisation is  pleased by Chakwera’s pledge to operationalize the Access to Information Act, which, according to the President, will take place in less than a month.

“This is the clearest indication so far that the Act will be operationalized soon. While this is commendable, CHRR, however, decries the President’s apparent oblivion to the numerous obstacles that pose a serious threat to the successful implementation of the Access to Information Act,” said Kaiyatsa in a statement  made available to Nyasa Times.

On his part, governance expert and commentator Makhumbo Munthali in a seprate interview with Nyasa Times said the promise to operationalize the Access to Information Act is welcome but said  said reforms of national broadcaster MBC and Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) were key.

“While the President was specific on the timeline when ATI would be operationalized, he didn’t clearly outline the roadmap on how MBC and MACRA would be rescued from executive capture. This is an area that needs urgent clear detailed reform agenda,” said Munthali.

CHRR has also noted that despite enshrining access to information as a right in the Constitution of Malawi, and adopting an enabling legislation, there are still numerous statutes in Malawi, some dating back to colonial times, that promote government secrecy and withholding of public information.

Kaiyatsa cited, for instance, that under section 4(1) of the Official Secrets Act (Cap 14:01), every person is prohibited from disclosing a wide range of information, including any official information which the person has accessed by virtue of working in government.

He said in their view, the aforementioned section defeats the purpose of Malawi’s Access to Information Act, 2017 whose main objective is to improve the flow of information from the government to citizens and ensure that citizens access the information held by the government.

“CHRR observes that operationalizing the Access to Information Act amidst these retrogressive legal provisions may render the Access to Information Act weak as some public officers may deny Malawians legitimate access to information on the basis that Section 4(1) of the Official Secrets Act prohibits them from doing so. It is for this reason that CHRR calls for the urgent review and repeal of the aforementioned section,” stated Kaiyatsa.

On access to the Internet, CHRR has welcomed Chakwera’s pledge to ensure that by 2025, at least 80 percent of Malawians should have access to internet services and reap the digital dividends as per SADC commitments.

However, the human rights watchdog has urged the President to make good on this promise, particularly considering that access to the Internet is now recognized by the United Nations (UN) as a fundamental human right.

Kaiyatsa said CHRR is concerned that the country has maintained a 17.5 percent value-added tax (VAT) on mobile phones and services, a 16.5 percent VAT on Internet services and an additional 10 percent excise duty on mobile phone text messages and Internet data transfers, introduced in 2015.

He said the result of these taxes is that access to the Internet is extremely expensive for average Malawians, putting the majority of the population, which is poor and rural-based, at a huge disadvantage and shutting them out of access to crucial services like mobile banking, access to relevant content and information, as well as access to essential communications platforms that could help lift them out of poverty.

CHRR has asked government to urgently remove the crippling taxes to enable more Malawians to access the net.

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