Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter has reiterated its stand on the need to establish an independent body to oversee the implementation of the yet-to-be passed Access to Information (ATI) Bill.
Misa Malawi national director Aubrey Chikungwa yesterday emphasised that if passed in its current form where the Minister of Information is given oversight powers, the legislation will not serve the best interests of Malawians.
He made the remarks in Lilongwe when he made a presentation to members of Parliament (MPs) under the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Information and Communication.
MPs are set to resume sitting in a few days where, among others, the much-awaited ATI Bill is going to be discussed and passed into law, according to the committee.
And in an effort to ensure that the will and interests of Malawians are upheld, Misa Malawi engaged the committee to iron out issues that could impinge on people’s right to information in the event that the Bill is not refined.
“Our major concern is on the oversight role. Initially, we had recommended that an independent body be established to perform these functions.
“But when government said it didn’t have the resources, we understood and compromised. Now what we are saying is that if we can’t create a new entity for this function, then let Malawi Human Rights Commission or Office of the Ombudsman be given those roles.”
Chikungwa argued that the office of a political appointee (a minister in this case) could not be best placed to handle complaints from citizens who have been denied some information by a public officer.
He also raised concerns with the gazetted Bill, especially Section 11 (1), which obliges an information holder to submit to the minister a report on their level of compliance with the provisions of the Act.
“We believe this can best be handled by an independent body. It should be an independent entity reporting to Parliament, and not the minister,” he emphasised.
He said this is the trend in other countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa, among others.
MP for Chitipa Wenya Godfrey Munkhondya, said there is indeed a need for thorough soul-searching on recommendations from Misa Malawi to ensure all the loopholes are sealed before passing the Bill into law.
The committee chairperson Sam Kawale said the committee will this week meet various stakeholders to get their views on the Bill. n