Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has supported calls to put on hold implementation of the Access to Information (ATI) Act, saying there are gaps that need to be addressed.
MHRC has since written Minister of Information Gospel Kazako, who appointed September 30 as the commencement date for the law, to shift the date to November 30 to give room for consultations.
In an interview on Wednesday, MHRC chairperson Reverend Patrick Semphere said as an authority mandated to oversee implementation of the law, MHRC is concerned with the sense of understanding of regulations among stakeholders.
He said the guidelines were not widely publicised for stakeholders input and as a result many do not fully understand them; hence, the need to subject them to further scrutiny.
Said Semphere: “It’s been clear in our interactions with various stakeholders that that kind of consultation was not adequate. This would make it difficult for us as a commission to oversee the implementation.
“We would be dealing with gaps that could have been taken care of at this early stage. Our request to the minister is essentially to consider that we fill those gaps and ensure that we move together.”
He also lamented the lack of information officers in some institutions, and underfunding for implementation of the Act. Government allocated K20 million for the operationalisation of ATI instead of K166 million required,.
He said MHRC resubmitted its budget to Parliament and is waiting to see if there will be consideration.
But the minister in a separate interview said government will engage MHRC to appreciate its concerns.
“We will engage them to appreciate the sort of consultation they would want to be conducted. But as far as government is concerned, all processes, including stakeholder consultations, were done and MHRC was part of every step,” said Kazako.
He further said the law has been operationalised and Malawi should celebrate as the law will help the country conduct its business in a proper manner.
When contacted, Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga said the Ministry of Information was the right authority to respond to the concerns MHRC has raised.
She said: “As a stakeholder and one of the organisations that advocated for this law, we will give ourselves time to reflect on the concerns being raised to see if there is anything that can be done.
“We will also try to seek some legal interpretation of what that means on the implementation of the access to information law.”
Among others, ATI Act provides for access to any information in the custody or under control of any information holder.