Bwaila Media Club, a grouping of media practitioners in the Central Region, has expressed worry over “government’s recent ambiguity and dilly-dallying in its commitment to table and pass the Access to Information (ATI) Bill”.
The remarks follow contradictory remarks from Capital Hill regarding the tabling of the bill during the November sitting of Parliament as earlier promised by President Peter Mutharika.
Briefing journalists in Lilongwe on Monday, Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango, flanked by Minister of Transport and Public Works Francis Kasaila, said the bill will not be tabled this year.
Said Kasaila: “The Bill is not yet ready because it has so many complexities that need to be ironed out and discussed by legal experts before it is tabled during this coming sitting of Parliament.”
On his part, Mhango assured that government will take the Bill to Parliament, but that it needs thorough scrutiny.
Ironically, in statement on Tuesday, Mhango said the processing of the Bill is at a very advanced stage and that everything is being done in keeping with Mutharika’s commitment.
The contradictions have worried Bwaila Media Club. In a statement, its Secretary General Augustine Mulomole said the Bill is an essential catalyst and enzyme of democracy as it equips the citizenry with powers to demand information from those trusted with government office.
“We have noted contradictory statements coming from the executive arm of the government with President Peter Mutharika recently declaring that the Bill would be tabled in the upcoming Parliament session while on the other hand the Leader of the House has been quoted in the media saying the bill is not on the items to be tabled.
“This is very worrying. We, therefore, also seriously, call upon the executive and legislative arms of government to immediately table the all too important Bill,” he said.
Mulomole has also urged opposition political parties, Civil Society Organizations, diplomatic and faith community and the public to help in pushing for the passing of the bill.
“The bill is also in tandem with the recent reformation push by government. The reforms being championed can be fast-tracked and mainstreamed well if members of the public are able to observe the doings of public officers. As a fraternity, we will not rest until this Bill comes through,” he added.
If passed, the ATI law will among others, provide for the right of access to information; define the scope of public information the public has the right to access; establish the (Independent) Public Information Commission and define its functions; as well as promote transparency and accountability of public officers.