In 2016, Members of Parliament passed the Access to Information (ATI) law that aimed to enable Malawians to access information under the custody of the State for exercise of their rights.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration promised to pass the law during its campaign towards the 2014 Tripartite Elections. But, once in power, DPP back-peddled on its promise, arguing that Malawians were bound to abuse the piece of legislation.
The DPP administration brought in conditions that the media fraternity has to fulfill for it to table the bill in the House. It is not surprising, therefore, that the DPP government is developing cold feet when it comes to implementing the law.
But we need to remind the DPP administration that implementing the ATI law is not a reward for good behaviour for media practitioners in the country. To the contrary, this law is a right that the Constitution provides to every person.
Section 37 of the Malawi Constitution stipulates that every person has a right to access to all information held by the State or any of its organs at any level of government in so far as such information is required for the exercise of his right.
The fact that Malawians have waited for over 23 years to have the enabling law in place means that the residents have had their rights curtailed for long.
We wish to reiterate that ATI is not for the benefit of the media alone. To the contrary, the media can do and have done without the ATI law ever since. Media practitioners only championed the law because of their daily transaction in information.
It is the ordinary person who needs the law more. The government also stands to benefit a lot as the law will make citizens active participants in public affairs. With the decentralisation system that Malawi embraced in the 90s, ATI can be handy as citizens are to take part in running schools, hospitals and other public goods.
We, therefore, wish to commend Malawi Law Society (MLS) for stressing the need for the government to implement the law. We also wish to ask other stakeholders to complement efforts that MLS, Misa-Malawi and other rights activists have been making.
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