Politicians and journalists in Malawi have hailed the passing of the Access to Information (ATI) Bill in the National Assembly in Lilongwe yesterday evening, describing it as “victory for all Malawians”.
The Bill, expected to become law after President Peter Mutharika assents to it and gets gazetted, is expected to empower Malawians to hold government and duty-bearers accountable on governance issues, according to Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament chairperson Maxwell Thyolera.
He said the passed Bill is almost similar to the original one that had been butchered and was presented in Parliament in July 2016.
“Let us hope when the Bill goes to the President, he will not take long to assent to it,” he enthused.
Thyolera noted that another victory is that the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) will oversee the operations of the legislation after the government capitulated on its earlier demands that the commission was not fit to carry out this work.
The passing of the Bill came after several disagreements between the opposition and government sides, which pointed to the possibility of another stalemate.
Media Council of Malawi (MCM) executive director Vales Machila was at home around 8pm when The Nation sought his reaction on the passing of the Bill.
“What? Has the Bill been passed?” He reacted. “Oh! Halleluja! This is a victory for everyone in the country.”
Machila said the battle to have the Bill passed has taken over 12 years.
Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter chairperson Thom Khanje described the passing of the Bill as a victory for Malawians and democracy.
“With this legislation in place, Malawians will now be able to demand any type of information, thereby exercising rights, which they could not enjoy in the absence of the enabling law,” said Khanje.
The opposition claimed victory after two division roll calls, which proved that they had numerical strength over government side on the day.
Apparently, government wanted the committee stage debate to be postponed so that the Minister of Information and Communication Technology Malison Ndau could further consult with his government superiors.
But in a reflection, some opposition members said this was a ploy by government to garner more votes on a later debate so that the opposition could be foiled. n