President Peter Mutharika has said government will not table the contentious Access to Information (ATI) Bill to please donors, but because it is important for people to know what was happening in a democracy.
However, Mutharika warned that he hoped the media would not abuse the wide access to information that the law would provide once it is enacted “in this session, not sitting which has just-ended on 6 December.”
Briefing journalists at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe on Monday, Mutharika said he was aware that donors had put the passing of the Bill as a condition to resumption of aid and possibly budgetary support which was halted two years ago.
Among the donors are European Union (EU) which has said it would withhold aid amounting to K80 billion if government does not table the Bill by December 31 this year.
Civil society organisations have given government a deadline to pass the Bill, but the President adamantly said: “Anybody putting a deadline on Peter Mutharika, I will not pay attention to that.
“Nobody is fighting it. We were the first people to say we will have the Access to Information Bill passed. It will be passed during this session, but we are not passing this Bill to please anybody. The Bill will be passed at some point. I hope that is the end of this issue.”
Ministry of Information, Tourism and Civic Education has promised that the Bill would be tabled at the Mid-term Budget Review which starts in February, but Mutharika confirmed that he sent back the bill to iron out some issues.
The President cited two clauses in the Bill he had a problem with, among them, 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.
“The Bill has to take effect from the day I sign for it. 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.
Media house owners and managers have also petitioned Mutharika for his government to table the Bill and highlight the so-called inconsistencies, but there has been no response. n