A Bill to give the public the right to access information held by the State will be submitted to Parliament in the next sitting in October, Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Kondwani Nankhumwa informed legislatures on Friday in Lilongwe.
Presenting a ministerial statement on the status of Access to Information Bill, Nankhumwa said almost 11 years after journalists in Malawi started pushing for such a law, government was ready to table it assuring National Assembly of Peter Mutharika administration commitment to ensuring that Malawians have access to information.
“It was in government’s recognition of its importance in promoting participatory democracy that my Ministry, in conjunction with key stakeholders including some members of this august House and the media, among others started working on the Access to Information Bill in 2004.
“In 2007, a draft Bill on Access to Information was in place, ready to be tabled for debate in this house when my ministry was advised that it is a requirement that every bill has to be preceded by a policy framework and since the draft Bill had none, we had to go back on the drawing board to develop an Access to Information Policy in conformity with Government requirement,” Nankhumwa said.
The Minister said government approved the National Access to Information Policy in January this year, noting that accessible information is vital for citizens to make informed decisions and participate meaningfully in all matters of national interest.
“As of now my ministry is working tirelessly to finalize work on the Bill so that it can be brought before this House in the next sitting of parliament so that we should fulfil what President Mutharika said during his inaugural speech and the State-of-the-Nation-Address that his government would ensure that Access to Information Bill is passed into law,” he said.
The right for citizens to access public information exists in the Malawian Constitution; Malawi is also a signatory to various United Nations’ charters regarding the access to information as a primary right. Malawi’s media environment should thus be conducive to accessing information.
Since 2003 the bill has undergone a number of reviews from a wide range of stakeholders, including MPs, civil society organisations, government ministries and judicial officers.
Meanwhile, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi chairperson Anthony Kasunda said his organisation appreciates the step government has taken.