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Cabinet approves draft ATI Bill

After a lengthy period of intense debate and government’s indecision, President Peter Mutharika and his Cabinet, on Friday last week, met and approved the draft Access to Information (ATI) Bill.

The approval means the bill is ready for tabling in the National Assembly.

Justice Minister, Samuel Tembenu, confirmed the development, Tuesday, saying the bill will be in Parliament for tabling and general debating during the forthcoming mid-year budget review sitting which starts on Monday.

The bill has been subjected to debate for several years and Mutharika’s recent comments against some provisions in the bill stretched the debate further.

Mutharika has strongly spoken against the provisions that restrict any future amendment of the bill, encourage retrospective application of the bill as well as the issue of institutional set up in the implementation of the bill.

“We have resolved everything that needed to be resolved,” is all Tembenu could say.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa- Malawi) Chairperson, Thom Khanje, said the institute is aware that some changes have been made to the draft that a multi-stakeholder taskforce presented to government in January 2015.

While saying Misa is yet to see the cabinet approved draft bill as they are waiting for gazetting before accessing it, Khanje said the expected changes include those that Mutharika pronounced during the meeting with media owners and managers at Kamuzu Palace last month.

“While Misa-Malawi does not have any problems with the issue of future amendment of the bill, we have reservations with regards to retrospective application of the bill as well as the institutional set up for the implementation of the bill.

‘We repeat the position as stated by media owners and managers in January that we expect retrospective restriction of the bill to take into consideration that Access to Information became law in Malawi in 1995 when it was provided for in the Republican Constitution under Section 37 of the Constitution,” Khanje said.

He also said Misa-Malawi expects the institutional set for implementation of the bill to recognise the importance of independence and neutrality for any institution to be charged with the oversight role of the proposed law.

“We, therefore, await publication of the bill in the gazette for us to appreciate the changes made and take an informed position on the matter. We hope to engage Members of Parliament before the tabling of the bill in the National Assembly,” he said.

However, Khanje, whose body has been in the forefront for the bill, commended the government for living up to what Minister of Finance, Goodall Gondwe, promised in December 2015 that the ATI bill will be tabled during the forthcoming Parliamentary sitting.

In the analysis released last week, a Canadian-based non-governmental organisation, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), faulted Mutharika for trying to weaken the Access to Information (ATI) law by demanding that it applies only to information generated after its adoption.

The analysis, which ranks the bill 15th on the Right to Information Rating, shows that, if passed, the Bill would be one of the stronger laws in the world.

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