Minister of Information Gospel Kazako has reiterated government’s commitment to implement the Access to Information Act, saying access to information is a fundamental human right key to the consolidation of the country’s democracy and development.
He made the remarks in Lilongwe yesterday when he opened a review session for the Act’s regulations and guidelines.
Said Kazako: “It is high time the Act became operational. This Government is committed to be transparent and accountable to the people of Malawi as its employers and this law is a crucial instrument in achieving that transparency and accountability. The review of the legal framework will necessitate operationalisation of the law.”
He said the Tonse Alliance administration believes in empowering Malawians to take part in the socio-economic development of the country and one way of doing that is to ensure people have access to public information.
Said the minister: “Do we have a good reason for not operationalising this Act which our National Assembly passed in December 2016? The answer is no. The former president Peter Mutharika assented to the law in February 2017. This is 2020 and the law is still not benefiting Malawians.
“You may wish to appreciate that access to information is recognised internationally as a vital tool for fostering social benefits such as access to education and health care, gender equality, children’s rights, potable water, clean environment, sustainable development and the fight against corruption.”
However, Kazako could not state when the law will be operationlised, only saying government is working round the clock to make that happen.
He also faulted the DPP government for failing to allocate enough resources towards ATI operationalisation which he said affected various programmes.
“For example, in the 2018/19 Fiscal Year, Malawi Human Rights Commission [MHRC]) only got K40 million for ATI activities. Let me assure the public that I will be lobbying for adequate resources for the operationalisation of this law,” said the minister.
On his part, MHRC chairperson for the ATI Act Baldwin Chiyamwaka said the country needs the law to start operating as in its absence it is hard to hold government accountable for its actions.
He said: “The presentation of the guidelines demonstrates that the rolling out of the Act is almost done. The guidelines are the practical enablers of the Act. The stakeholders will now review and validate the [guidelines] and once that is done, a date for commencement can be set.”
Chiyamwaka, whose institution is mandated with the enforcement of the Act, commended the new government for its commitment to implement the Act, adding it is the hope of MHRC that the date for commencement of the law will be set soon.
He also asked government to allocate enough resources, saying inadequate resources previously delayed the process.
Parliament passed the ATI Bill in 2016. But the law has not been operational because the Minister has not set a commencement date of the law as required by law. The minister can only set the date if the necessary regulatory framework to guide operation of the law is in place.