The country’s media fraternity and opposition political groupings have applauded President Peter Mutharika for assenting to the much awaited Access to Information (ATI) bill into law months after it was approved by Parliament.
For years Malawians have been calling for the bill to be tabled in Parliament to provide free access information from government and other public institutions. And Mutharika has been shilly-shallying on issue despite promising to act on soon he took office in 2014.
Solicitor General Janet Chikaya Banda and State House’s Director of Communications, Dr. Bright Molande confirmed on Wednesday about the development, creating an excitement amongst media practitioners and the general public.
And the main opposition party in Parliament, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has applauded Mutharika for the move, describing it as constructive development.
“The bill met a lot resistance and as opposition we were instrumental in ensuring that it becomes a law. We are now happy that Malawians will be able to access information,” said MCP Spokesperson Ezekiel Ching’oma.
“The law will not only favor the media but every Malawian willing to access information from government and other public bodies. We thank the President for assenting to the bill,” he said.
Ching’oma was however quick to caution government to ensure information gate-keepers are in place if the law is to be meaningful and beneficial to the nation.
Media watchdog Misa-Malawi chairperson Thom Khanje welcomed the issue saying Malawians will now be able to enjoy their Constitutional rights.
“It’s a welcome development to the people of Malawi as they will now be able to enjoy their right to access to Information as enshrined in the republican Constitution,” said Khanje.
He added” “The Act gives the right to the people to access information from public offices. It also gives government officials an obligation to provide the information as requested.”
Communication Workers Union of Malawi (Cowuma) president, Deus Sandram also hailed Mutharika for making a bold move in assenting to the bill unlike his predecessors who chose to ignore it.
“It’s a welcome move. We commend the President for that. The bill has gone through hands of a number of Presidents, but there were no signs of any light ahead. The media will now work in a free environment and obtaining information will no longer be a challenge as it used to be. We will work comfortably, knowing we have a legal backing,” explained Sandram.
Sandram has since challenged media practitioners to use the law effectively, warning “The onus is on us the practitioners not to abuse the freedom and harass others. We should prove those that were against the bill wrong by conducting ourselves in a professional way.”
Mutharika assented to the bill after much pressure from the media, civil society groups and the opposition political parties.
The government last year initially tabled what the media and civil society groups described as a diluted bill in Parliament after much of the contents were what they called doctored, adultered and butchered.
However, the opposition back benchers took the government by surprise when they made the changes and passed it.
ATI allows the public to seek for any information from government, and obligates public servants to make sure they provide that information, or risk hefty fines or jail terms.
Any objection in granting the information, or hides some of the information, then the public can report the matter to the Malawi Human Rights Commission for review and enforcement orders.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :