Minister to decide when Malawi Information law should be operational: CHRR, PANOS to monitor implementation

Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Samuel Tembenu says the much talked Access to Information bill can only be operational after the Information Minister decides when.

Tembenu (right) with President Mutharika: Information law is at the mercy of Minister of Information on its implementantion

Tembenu said the Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Nicholas Dausi will decide when to gazette the law after consulting the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) which will act as thev secretariat for the operationalisation of the law.

“He will decide the day but I think it might not be too long,” said Tembenu.

The Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister also said the ATI will not work retrogressively.

“There is no law which works retrogressively,” he said.

Civil society groups and the media have patted President Peter Mutharika’s back for assenting to the bill into law after a 14 year battle to have it as law.

Dausi said this was the Democratic Progressive Party led government fulfilment of its campaign promise.

Centre  for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), while commending Mutharika for assenting to the Bill, says it will monitor to see the law being implemented.

“For a long time, Malawians have been waiting for the ATI law which is now expected to replace a culture of secrecy and impunity with that of transparency and accountability in various areas such as finance management and extractive industry.

“The country’s media has at times failed to conduct itself professionally due to lack of an enabling piece of legislation,” said CHRR’s executive director Timothy Mtambo in a statement made available to Nyasa Times.

Mtambo said any law is as good as its implementation.

“As such, CHRR is calling for strong, effective and efficient ATI implementation mechanisms to be put in place so that the law truly lives up to its democratic expectation.

“There is need for government to further demonstrate political will by building the capacity of Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) -the overseer of the law -both in terms of human and financial resources.

“Additionally, there is need for stakeholders; namely, government, media and civil society to join hands to popularize the ATI law so that citizens are meaningfully empowered and use the law to claim their constitutional rights,” said Mtambo.

And Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAF) has called on Malawi government to “immediately put in place politicies, systems and measures to support the full implementation of this law.”

Panos said among other things, it encourage the authorities in Malawi “to ensure the speedy establishment if the Independent Information Commission that is provided for in the new law.”

In a statement seen by Nyasa Times  posted on Panos website,  the organisation said: “We have the highest confidence that this law will enable citizens to access information. This increased access to public information will create an enabling environment for citizens to participate in promoting accountability in the management of public resources in the country.”

A University of Malawi communication expert at Chancellor College in Zomba, Jimmy Kainja cautioned advocates of the law that implementing ATI law “will mean several battles.”

He pointed out: “ The law includes exceptions such as national security issues which need ti be defined and will be contentious; information will not come willy-nilly; itbwill be a fight.”

Local daily newspaper The Nation which has of late been pro-government in its editorial comment , apart from congratulating President Mutharika for assenting the bill,  urged authorities not to put spanners in the works to thwart smooth implementation of the law.

“Malawiasn have waited too long for this law and it only proper that access to information is guaranteed bu all public offices,” said the paper.

The President’s assent to the Bill has been a positive news to Malawians from scandal-gate riddled government.

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