Ministry of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology yesterday came under fire from the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament for providing misleading information on the status of Access to Information (ATI) Act implementation.
During a joint meeting that included Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) , the committee accused Ministry of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology team led by Principal Secretary Esmie Kainja of misleading the ministers and the nation.
Committee member and Chitipa South legislator Werani Chilenga did not mince words as he accused the three institutions of allegedly conniving to cheat the committee.
He asked Ministry of Information officials why they wanted to mislead the nation by giving the line ministers false updates on the status of the implementation of the law.
Said Chilenga: “The technocrats in the Ministry of Information misled the nation and their minister on regulations and progress of the Act. They said they were waiting from the Ministry of Justice on commencement date when they are the ones who were supposed to approach Ministry of Justice. It is strange that the Ministry of Justice only received the draft regulations two days ago.”
The committee summoned the three institutions to a joint meeting after noting conflicting responses and blame-game during separate meetings last week.
For over a year now, incumbent Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani and his predecessor Henry Mussa have been telling Malawians that appointing a commencement date for the ATI Act awaited approval of regulations which were with the Ministry of Justice.
In an interview yesterday, Botomani conceded that he was misled by his officials, but promised that going forward he will ensure that he is given correct information.
He said the ministry and the committee have agreed to work out a road map which will outline a time frame for consultations to facilitate implementation of ATI.
The minister said government was not deliberately delaying implementation of the Act, but that further consultations needed to be undertaken by various ministries, departments and the private sector on how they will give out information.
During yesterday’s meeting, Ministry of Justice chief legislative counsel Chizaso Nyirongo told the committee that the Ministry of Information submitted to them a layman’s draft of regulations two days ago. He said they are yet to come up with the draft regulations.
He said: “I am responsible for drafting regulations in our ministry, but in this I haven’t been involved yet.”
Responding to questions from the committee on the delay, Kainja offered an apology and asked for time to iron out some errors to come up with a concrete date on the commencement of the Act.
Committee chairperson Kezzie Msukwa said it was worrisome that after being accented to, the Act has taken long to commence fearing that it may take even five more years before implementation.
Cabinet approved a Policy on ATI in January 2014 and Parliament passed the ATI Bill in December 2016 while President Peter Mutharika signed it into law in February 2017.