President Peter Mutharika has assented to the eagerly-awaited Access to Information (ATI) Bill and Financial Crimes Bill.
The signing of the ATI Bill is a landmark achievement for the country and will go a long in fostering transparency and accountability, advocates of the law said in reaction to the news yesterday.
Both Minister of Information and Communication Technology Nicholas Dausi and Secretary for Justice and Solicitor General Janet Banda confirmed the development yesterday, putting to rest media and civil society fears that Mutharika would not assent to the two bills.
“Yes, the President has signed the two bills; Access to Information and Financial Crimes Bill,” said Banda.
Meanwhile, European Union (EU) Ambassador Marchel Germann has said he is delighted to hear that the President has assented to the ATI Bill.
“This is great news for Malawi. Congratulations to Parliament and all who have worked so hard to make this possible. The Bill will empower media, civil society, academia and Malawians across the country to have better access to information and more insight into politics.
“This piece of legislation will improve transparency and accountability and I applaud the President for assenting to it. EU has been a staunch supporter of the Bill and stands ready to support Malawi in helping with implementation,” said Germann.
British High Commissioner Holly Tett also congratulated Mutharika on assenting to the Bill.
“Government of Malawi and in particular the President, His Excellency Arthur Peter Mutharika should be commended for passing a progressive Access to Information Act and the Financial Crimes Act. Looking forward to the wholesale implementation of all provisions in the Act for the benefit of all stakeholders, especially ordinary Malawians,” she said.
Dausi said in an interview the President was fulfilling his campaign promise other than responding to critics.
“It has not been prompted by any other consideration serve for the fulfilment of the campaign manifesto and his previous commitment to pass the Bill. Now that he has upheld his promise, we expect the nation to recognise this and give him a pat on the back for a job well done,” he said.
Advocates say the ATI law will enhance protection of State resources by empowering the public, the media in particular, to be able to legally force government officials and institutions to release information deemed to be of public interest.
In an interview, Media Council of Malawi chairperson Emily Mkamanga said the development was a great day for the media in the country.
She said the media was now emboldened to do a great job, bringing those in office accountable.
“This is very exciting. Now it creates a lot of freedom for the country’s journalists. Now they have freedom; they thrive when [they have] information,” said Mkamanga.
Apart from the ATI, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs confirmed that Mutharika has also assented to the Financial Crimes Bill.
Jimmy Kainja, a communications expert based at Chancellor College, while congratulating Mutharika for signing “the long overdue” law cautioned advocates of the law to mind battles to come.
“To be joining the club of a few countries in Africa to have signed such a law is commendable. Again, there were fears after the mandatory 21 days elapsed following the passing of the Bill, Mutharika was not going to sign the Bill into law.
“And it’s been a fight that dates back close to 15 years ago. But those celebrating today must be aware that implementing this law will mean several battles. The law includes exceptions such as national security issues which need to be defined and will be contentious; information will not come willy-nilly; it will be a fight,” he said.
Meanwhile, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), while commending Mutharika for assenting to the Bill, says it will monitor to see the law being implemented.
“PSAf calls on the government to immediately put in place policies, systems and measures to support the full implementation of this law. Among other things, we encourage the authorities in Malawi to ensure the speedy establishment of the Independent Information Commission that is provided for in the new law.
“We have the highest confidence that this law will enable citizens to access information held by public entities. 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,” reads a statement on its website.