Malawi Government has adopted the Access to Information (ATI) Policy and according to Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter this means that Malawi now has a policy of access to information.
Misa Malawi has since applauded government for this development. In a statement signed by Misa Malawi National Director, Aubrey Chikungwa, Access to Information is a fundamental right that supersedes all other rights.
Chikungwa added that government’s adoption of the ATI Policy is commendable progress in Malawi’s efforts to have legislation on access to information.
The campaign to have Access to Information legislation started in 2003 but stalled when government in 2009 indicated that there was need for a policy on ATI before the Bill could proceed to Parliament for debate. MISA Malawi and various civil society organisations have been lobbying government since then to adopt a Policy on ATI.
“This is the more reason why MISA Malawi applauds the Joyce Banda administration for taking such a positive step and we have hope that Members of Parliament will pass the ATI Bill once tabled in the House,” the statement reads.
The right of access to information is enshrined in the Republic of Malawi Constitutional under Section 37 which states that:
‘Subject to any Act of Parliament, every person shall have the right of access to all information held by the State or any of its organs at any level of Government in so far as such information is required for the exercise of his right. ‘
Despite this Constitutional provision, Malawi has no legislation on Access to Information to compel those in authority to release information proactively or upon request. The absence of such an Act basically means that citizens cannot easily access information held by the State and public institutions as provided for in the Constitution
According to MISA Malawi the adoption of the ATI Policy by Cabinet will pave the way for enactment of legislation on Access to Information and create a conducive environment for its effective implementation.
Commenting on the development, MISA Malawi Chairperson Anthony Kasunda said the adoption of the policy was a milestone but could not have been possible without support from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and most recently Tilitonse.
“This is a very commendable development. We applaud government for adopting the Policy and we now look forward to enactment of the ATI Bill. Our next step is to make sure that Members of Parliament support the ATI Bill once tabled in the August House,” Kasunda said.
Among other key priority areas, the Policy provides for enactment of legislation on Access to Information, improved networking amongst government departments, systematic storage of public information, awareness/civic education for people to appreciate the relevance of ATI, and promotion of transparency and accountability.