Malawi President Peter Mutharika has been accused the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), Canadian-based non-governmental organisation, for working to weaken the Access to Information (ATI) law by demanding that it should not apply restrospectively and that it should only focus on information generated after its adoption.
President Mutharika cited two clauses in the Bill which he said he had a problem with that include a provision that would enable Malawians to recover any information that preceded the passing of the legislation and that no future Parliament would have power to change the law.
Mutharika wants the Bill to take effect from the day he sign for it.
When he met media owners in Lilongwe recently, Mutharika challenged that he would not sign the bill into law even if passed by Parliament if it maintains some sections he expressed displeasure with
“That provision [law applying retrospectively] has to go. And we cannot say no future Parliament can change this law, Parliament is sovereign. That also needs to be corrected,” he said.
But CLD Senior Legal Officer, Michael Karanicolas said restricting the right to information to future documents would “dramatically undermine the impact of the law.”
He said: “Rather than weakening the Bill, the priority for the government should now be on getting it passed into law.”
CLD which works internationally to promote fundamental rights for democracy, with an emphasis on freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to information and digital rights also recommends that the Bill should overrule Malawi’s Official Secrets Act to the extent of any conflict.
“Exceptions for personal privacy and Cabinet records should be significantly narrowed in scope. Malawi should commit to dedicating additional resources for the oversight body. The law should make it clear that it applies to the office of the President,” some of the recommendations by CLD.
Meanwhile, civil rights activist Michael Usi told a news conference that ogovernment has to fast-track the process of taking the ATI Bill to Parliament for enactment, saying the legislation is a must-have in a democracy.
“ATI is not any other bill as it is a very important enabler for Malawians to know critical information in terms of what has been or is happening. The bill is also a strategic development tool, as such it is not an option for any country,” said Usi.
“The bill is not targeting any individual or group of people; therefore, government need not be worried with it neither should any authority be afraid of the bill. It is a bill that seeks to empower ordinary people who for a while have been trampled on,” he added.
Ministry of Information, Tourism and Civic Education has promised that the Bill would be tabled at the Mid-term Budget Review which starts this February.
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