President Peter Mutharika has not assented to the Access to Information (ATI) Bill, 30 days after it was passed, because Parliament has not submitted it to his office.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly has confirmed that so far Mutharika has assented to four money bills which have since been gazetted while the majority of the bills, especially ATI Bill, needed to be cleaned following amendments introduced in the House.
Bills, which have since been gazetted include African Development Fund (Agricultural Infrastructure and Youth in Agribusiness Project) Loan Authorisation Bill, Export and Import Bank of China (National Fibre Backbone Project) Loan Authorisation Bill, International Development Association (Second Additional Financing for Strengthening Safety Nets Systems Project-Fourth Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf IV) Loan Authorisation Bill and International Development Association (Malawi Drought Recovery and Resilience Project) Loan Authorisation.
Parliament’s chief public relations officer Leonard Mengezi said the money bills were expeditiously submitted to State House due to their urgent nature as the President is given 21 days to assent to bills.
However, procedurally, 21 days only begins when the Clerk of Parliament submits the bill cleaned by Ministry of Justice to the President, Mengezi explained.
“Money bills were straightforward and had no amendments which meant that the Ministry of Justice did not spend time on them. But the ATI Bill had a lot of amendments to which several stakeholders had to give input before the final one could be submitted to the President,” he said.
Mengezi said the process delayed due to a government sanctioned festive holiday which started not long after Parliament adjourned.
“ATI Bill, and others, will be sent to the President today [yesterday], so 21 days will be counted from the day the bills are submitted,” Mengezi said.
When queried which bills had come before the President, State House press secretary Mgeme Kalilani said ATI Bill was not among those which had already been submitted to the President for his consideration.
“The President has received two lots of bills in recent past. The first lot had two money bills, both were assented to and [since] that lot all bills that came were assented to.
“Yesterday [Tuesday], he also got two more bills, one on [National Parks and] Wildlife and another one on the National Planning Commission,” he said.
Organisations which have for 15 years fought for enactment of the ATI Bill have been jittery that the President would not assent to an amended Bill after Mutharika threatened on numerous occasions that he would veto it.
Media Institute of Southern Africa Malawi chapter chairperson Thom Khanje said the institution was waiting for the President to sign the ATI Bill.
“I hear he has signed other bills except ATI, but procedure requires him to formally write the Speaker to explain why he has decided not to sign,” Khanje said. n