Misa Malawi and Panos Institute Southern Africa have commended President Lazarus Chakwera’s commitment to implement reforms to enhance free flow of information, including the operationalisation of the Access to Information (ATI) Act within a month.
Chakwera made the announcement during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) at Parliament Building in Lilongwe on Friday.
In a statement issued on Friday signed by chairperson Teresa Ndanga, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi said it expects the Minister of Information to gazette the commencement date of the ATI Act within the one-month timeframe.
Reads the statement: “We would like to further remind public bodies to ensure that they are ready to comply with obligations under the Act by, among others, keeping records and appointing and training information officers.
“It is our expectation that the 2020/21 National Budget will also allocate adequate resources to the Malawi Human Rights Commission to effectively oversee implementation of the legislation.”
Misa Malawi further stated that it hopes the operationalisation of the ATI Act will mark an end to an era of secrecy and unnecessary withholding of public information by the government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), which undermines citizens’ right of access to information as guaranteed in Section 37 of the Malawi Constitution.
On its part, Panos urged the Ministry of Information and other entities that have a part to play to immediately put in place measures that would help to actualise the commitments made by the President.
“As an organisation that promotes access to information, we have repeatedly expressed concern at the delayed operationalisation of the Access to Information Act, which has been gathering dust since its enactment in 2016.
“We reiterate that the delayed operationalisation of the ATI law is an unnecessary setback to the full enjoyment of the right to information and freedom of expression,” reads the statement signed by Panos executive director Vusumuzi Sifile.
Panos added that with Chakwera’s announcement, the organisation expects to see immediate and practical steps taken by the Ministry of Information and other actors to ensure that the ATI law is operational by the beginning of the second week of October 2020, going by the President’s one month deadline.
During the Sona, Chakwera also announced “the establishment of a Parliament television and radio to improve public access to information about House activities” as part of his information reforms.
On measures to reform the broadcasting sector, Chakwera said he “will reform the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority into a people-centred and professional regulator… and break the spell of political servility that binds the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation”.
Other notable reforms that will enhance the free flow of information include the President’s commitment to increase Internet access, and enable more Malawians to “reap the digital dividends”.