Minister of Information and Communications Technology Henry Mussa says he is optimistic the long-awaited Access to Information (ATI) Act will come into force early next year.
The minister gave the indication in an interview yesterday after visiting the head office of Nation Publications Limited (NPL), publishers of The Nation, Weekend Nation, Nation on Sunday, Fuko and Nation Online (www.mwnation.com), at Ginnery Corner in Blantyre as part of his familiarisation tour.
Parliament passed the ATI in December 2016 and President Peter Mutharika assented to the law in February last year.
Yesterday, Mussa attributed the delay in effecting the law to delays in regulations and awareness on the Act, among other factors.
He said most stakeholders, including traditional leaders, need to be sensitised on the how the Act will work in relation to issues of decentralisation because they will be key in disseminating information to the public when a need arises.
Said Mussa: “What remains is to come up with regulations and the delay in coming up with regulations is again a mixed bag. There are issues to do with awareness campaign of what this law is all about.
“There is a key sector in our society whom I will be meeting with, these are chiefs. They need to appreciate what this law is all about because with decentralisation, much of the functions are at councils and at councils there are chiefs as members who must be readily available.
“So, definitely during the first or second months of next year, we should be rolling out or making this law being implemented.”
During the meeting, NPL deputy chief executive officer Alfred Ntonga said the passing of the ATI law brought a ray of hope to the media. Sadly, he said, that has not been the case over a year later and counting.
He said the media was hopeful the ATI would facilitate easy access to information, especially when following up on taxpayer-funded projects.
ATI objectives include providing people access to information from information holders and duty-bearers, ensuring that public bodies disclose information they hold and providing a framework to facilitate access to information.
The law also seeks to promote routine and systemic information disclosures, provide for the protection of persons who release information on public interest and facilitate civic education on their right to access to information.
The enactment of the law marked the end of a long process of consultations and negotiations that characterised the initial phase of concept and drafting stages.
The ATI law presents an opportunity for Malawians to exercise their right to access information. Although this right is already in the Constitution, it has been impossible for the people to exercise it because of a lack of the necessary framework and procedures for doing so.
The delay in putting the Act into force has been a cause for concern for several stakeholders, including Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter who have asked government to explain the delays.
In August this year, Misa Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga accused government of failing to honour its promises on ATI.
She said: “There was once an indication of December 2017. Then we were told it would be operational in March 2018 and later July 1 2018. Government has lost its believability on this matter.”
MHRC executive secretary David Nungu said the commission drafted a letter to the then minister that he should set a commencement date for the law to start.
Mussa was accompanied on the tour by Principal Secretary Erica Maganga, director of information Gideon Munthali and deputy director of information Deogratias M’mana and ministry spokesperson Simon Mbvundula.