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Civil society orgs. give Malawi President Mutharika deadline on information bill

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The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi chapter together with 20 civil society organisations under the State of the Union (Sotu) have given President Peter Mutharika up to next Monday to clearly name the inconsistencies delaying the tabling of the Access to Information bill.

Mutharika is currently in Malta for the Commonwealth meetings and his administration has been changing tunes on when government will table the Bill in Parliament, with the latest excuse being the Bill has various inconsistencies to be addressed first before it is tabled.

Government is yet to name the inconsistencies, a development which led Media Owners and Managers in Malawi through Misa Malawi and the Media Council of Malawi (MCM) to petition Mutharika to fulfill his promise and constitutional requirement by tabling the bill during the current meeting of Parliament.

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And Misa Malawi Chairperson Thom Khanje told The Daily Times yesterday that a meeting his organisation had with Sotu on Friday last week resolved to give Mutharika and his administration a seven-day ultimatum which lapses next Monday to explain the inconsistencies.

“Together with all civil society organisations and other groups of interest, we agreed that we give President Mutharika and his administration seven days to come out clear on the inconsistencies and make a commitment to Malawians that the Bill will be tabled during this meeting of Parliament.” Khanje said.

He also said the groups agreed in the event that government fails to address the concerns by the stated period, peaceful demonstrations will be held where among others, the groups will march and present a petition to Mutharika.

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“In the absence of the President, we will deliver the petition to Vice President Saulos Chilima because the [Republican] Constitution empowers him (Chilima) that as Vice President he can call and chair a cabinet meeting to iron out all those inconsistencies and eventually table the Bill before end of the current meeting.” Khanje said.

Khanje said it is the expectation of media owners in the country and all groups of interest to see to it that the President acts diligently on the matter as the Bill is important not only to the Media but also to the general population.

In an interview yesterday, Minister of Information, Jappie Mhango, stuck to his stand of not commenting on the matter.

“The only thing I can say on this issue is that I have not seen the petition. I can competently comment if I have gone through the issues they are raising,” Mhango said.

He added: “Over the weekend, I heard that there were some CSOs who issued an ultimatum that government should, within seven days, make public the inconsistencies in the bills. Up to now I have not seen the ultimatum, and I can also not comment on that.”

Leader of People’s Party (PP) in Parliament, Uladi Mussa, expressed his displeasure with the way government is handling the issue.

“As a party we are shocked with the way government is handling this matter. The President made it clear that the Bill will be tabled in Parliament. But now we are seeing the government doing the opposite. Information is very important. Where there is no information, speculation and rumour-mongering becomes the order of the day. That is not good for the country’s development,” Mussa said.

He said his party will continue pushing for the tabling of the Bill.

“As People’s Party, we support the media owners and managers. We will keep pushing for the tabling of the Bill. I think government is taking Malawians for granted. Here we are talking about an issue on which we got a presidential assurance. We will keep fighting together,” he said.

Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) Spokesperson Ken Ndanga told The Daily Times yesterday that as far as his party is concerned, what the President and his cabinet did is not the end of the ATI Bill but simply a strategy to tighten some issues so that it should not bring problems in the near future.

“We believe that the President’s speech was a statement of intention and commitment in our view we have all the reasons to believe that it was made in good faith. We are hoping that such a process will be expedited to allay the fears from the stakeholders that perhaps there is a ploy to frustrate the tabling of the Bill,” he said.

Ndanga further said if the Bill is rejected after the amendments as commended by government, such a development will not be in line with the values which the UDF party stands for.

“As a party we would like to see the Bill being passed into a law because we all know it will help us, as a country, to be accountable bearing in mind that information will be out there accessible to anyone who needs it. However, we would like to have the Bill passed without the claimed irregularities,” he said.

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