Malawi Government has stressed that the Access to Information (ATI) Act, once it rolls out, will promote transparency and accountability and reduce a culture of mistrust between State institutions and the public.
Minister of Information, Communications and Technology Nicholas Dausi said this during the opening of a half-day ATI orientation workshop for heads of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in Lilongwe yesterday.
He said the goal can be achieved if public officers learn to give correct information to members of the public, including professionals such as journalists.
“You are expected to facilitate the access of information that is valid and factually correct. You must never provide false information…[as] there are penalties for failure to abide by the law.
“The government will not shield anyone who will deliberately breach the provisions of this law. Government would like to see to it that the law works for the benefit of the people as well as the benefit of the government,” the minister stated.
Dausi expressed happiness that the ATI Act gives mandatory responsibility to both information seekers and holders; hence, the emphasis for the right information, whereby people would be able to query duty-bearers on public resources.
“We are very optimistic that the Act will start before the end of this year and I will shortly communicate the commencement date for the Act. It is my hope that this will take away the anxiety that has been always there ever since the Act was enacted,” he said.
Earlier, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) executive secretary David Nungu pointed out that since the bill was passed into law, the nation has been anxious to know when the law will effectively come into force.
He disclosed that the delay was because a tripartite working committee—comprising MHRC and the ministries of Information, Communications and Technology and Justice and Constitutional Affairs—needed to finalise the groundwork for the roll-out.
“To that effect, I am happy to report that the commission has already drafted a letter to the minister, advising that in view of the progress so far made, the minister should set a commencement date for the law to start,” added Nungu.
In an interview, National Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa) Malawi Chapter chairperson Teresa Ndanga said it is hard to believe that the Act will be effected soon, following a rather slow roll-out process.
She said: “This is not new; government has failed to honour several of its own promises on ATI before. There was once the indication of December 2017, then March 2018, to July 1 2018. Government has lost its believability on this matter.
“But let me remind the officials that they had made this a campaign issue in 2014 and the electorate hasn’t forgotten that. It is to the benefit of everyone if they make it operational.”
ATI objectives include providing people access to information from information holders, ensuring that public bodies disclose information they hold and providing a framework to facilitate access to information.
The law also seeks to promote routine and systemic information disclosures, provide for the protection of persons who release information of public interest and facilitate civic education on their right to access to information.
ATI was passed by Parliament in December 2016 and assented to by President Peter Mutharika in February 2017. The enactment of the legislation marked the end of a long process of consultations and negotiations that characterised the initial phases of conceptualising and drafting of the Bill.
The law on ATI presents an opportunity for Malawians to exercise their right to access information. Although this right to access information is already available in the Constitution, it has been impossible for the people to exercise the right because of a lack of the necessary framework and procedures for doing so.