Access to Information (ATI) Act is yet to be operationalised as the tripartite technical committee that was set up to fine-tune it is still working on the modalities almost a year after President Peter Mutharika assented to the law.
Mutharika assented to the controversially-passed Act on February 16 2017. The Act would empower Malawians to access information from ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and hold the officerbearers accountable.
However, 11 months down the line, government is yet to establish structures that would enable the facilitation of information access including establishments of information holders’ positions in MDAs and increasing funding to Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the institution that will be supervising the whole process.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Malawi Chapter has since decried the delay saying they have expressed their concern to both the ministry and MHRC.
Misa Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga said in an interview yesterday the ministry claimed it was waiting for MHRC to finalise the modalities and that once finalised the minister was ready to gazette the operationalisation of the ATI Act.
“They gave us the month of March 2018 as the time it will be operationalised. We hope they mean it,” she said.
Ndanga said the speedy operationalisation of the law would be necessary as the country is preparing for the 2019 Tripartite Elections, saying this is Misa’s concern.
But both government and MHRC say there has been progress to ensure the Act becomes operational, and that some modalities have been put in place.
Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Nicholas Dausi, who is expected to gazette the operationalisation of the Act, said in an interview yesterday there were a number of areas to be looked into, including putting in place the structures and guidelines for the operationalisation of the law.
He also said government was putting all aspects of the law in place to ensure that all Malawians, not just the media, enjoy the law.
“There is a need to simplify the documents for ordinary people’s understanding. After the process has been completed there will be civic education before the law is operationalised,” he said.
In a separate interview, MHRC commissioner Patrick Semphere also said ATI instruments, including information request forms, complaints forms, information seeking guidelines and communication strategy have been put in place.
Parliamentary Committee on Media chairperson Sam Kawale also said yesterday that there is noticeable progress in ATI and that proper structures are being put in place.
“Malawi is moving seemingly slow but is doing things right. Other countries that adopted the law are finding it difficult to operationalise it because they moved quickly,” he said.
But Kawale said in his personal observation he noted that while MHRC was putting in place modalities, he saw some challenges in implementing the law as it needs government to employ information holders in MDAs.
Opposition parties in Parliament last year forced the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led government to present the bill in Parliament. Government presented a watered down version of the bill.