Government has warned that it will punish any public servant who tries to frustrate the Access To Information (ATI) Act touted as a new tool for fighting corruption and fraud in Malawi.
Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) secretary for human resource management and development Hilario Chimota issued the warning at an ATI Act sensitisation conference for senior government officials and other stakeholders in Lilongwe on Wednesday.
He said when the law rolls out in a few months’ time, government will not protect anyone who withholds information in the public interest or which may be useful in detecting and curbing fraud and corruption in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
“As government, we have set the ball rolling on issues of ATI Act. This is an important law in public administration because it will help curb fraud and corruption in government departments, especially in district councils,” Chimota stated.
The ATI Bill was passed in Parliament on December 14 2016 and President Peter Mutharika assented to it on February 10 2017. It empowers people to freely obtain information from both government and private institutions.
But since it was assented to, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has not yet set the date the law will be enforced, as provided for in article one of the Act.
Responding to queries in Parliament two weeks ago on why the ATI Act has not yet rolled out, Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi said a ministerial committee comprising his ministry, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) have been tackling various tasks towards ensuring an effective roll out of the ATI Act.
In an interview on Wednesday, ICT Principal Secretary Erica Maganga said government wants to fulfil some requirements such as sensitising information holders, the media and the general public to create a thorough understanding before the ministry sets the law’s implementation.
MHRC chairperson Justin Dzonzi said there will be need for more resources to enable the ministry to efficiently implement the Act in line with its provisions.
Said Dzonzi: “We have already been providing some levels of awareness. But once the law is gazzetted, we are going to organise more awareness campaigns.”
He said the commission previously budgeted for K400 million for ATI Act activities but it remains to be seen whether the entire budget will be met by the government.
National Media Institute for Southern Africa (Namisa) chairperson Tereza Ndanga expressed optimism that the Act will be implemented this year.
She said: “The fact that government has began sensitisations gives us hope that ATI Act will be implemented now. We trust the law will be in force any time soon after June.”
Ndanga concurred with Maganga on the need to train journalists to understand the law because of their role of information-gathering and dissemination.