The Malawi government says it will operationalise the long-awaited access to information (ATI) law before end of this year, a promise which comes over a year since the bill was assented to.
The fresh commitment is part of the report on the human rights situation in Malawi presented to the 62nd session of the Commission on Human and People’s Rights currently underway in the Mauritanian Capital, Nouakchott.
The Media Institute for Southern Africa–Malawi Chapter, one of the stakeholders advocating for ATI law, has branded the latest promise as another ‘lip-service’ and further casting doubt that the law may not come into force any time soon in view of the forth-coming elections.
Making the presentation on behalf of the Malawi Government, chief State advocate Pacharo Kayira assured the African Union Commission and State parties that a lot of ground work has been done to have the law come into force later this year.
“As regards the Access to Information Act was passed last year, a tripartite steering committee was set up to prepare ground work before the Act becomes operational.
“The work of the steering committee is at a very advanced stage and the Act will be operational later this year,” he told the gathering.
Among other notable achievements, Kayira mentioned the review of the Prisons Act to improve the welfare of inmates, domestication of the Maputo Protocol, which includes enactment of relevant laws such as the raising of the marriage age to 18, and the passing of the ATI law.
Commenting on Malawi’s report, Commission on Human and People’s Rights chairperson Soyata Maiga applauded Malawi for the reported progress, particularly emphasising on the need to fast-track operationalisation of the ATI law.
“It is good to hear that you have the access to information law. This is important for our democracy and we always encourage countries to have such progressive laws. We encourage you to operationalise the law quickly for the benefit of the people of your country,” said Maiga.
But Misa-Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga considers the new commitment as another face-saver in the eyes of the international community, adding that government appears to be jittery about the ATI law.
She said only after government allocates funding in the forthcoming budget towards activities to operationalise the law, Misa will have faith in government’s commitment.
“It is now difficult to trust government in the operationalisation of the law. We have been pushing for a commencement date for a year now and we have been told tales,” Ndanga said in a written response.
Asked why implementation of the law has taken so long, Kayira said there are processes to be followed to have such a law in force, which include development of operational guidelines.
According to Kayira, development of guidelines is a consultative process; hence taking more time.
“We need to define, what is information? Which information will be accessed under the law and how will it be accessed. Mind you, this is a right which is not absolute—rather does not give the citizen a blank cheque to demand any type of information they are looking for,” he added.