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Government frustrates ATI Bill progress

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi has described the delay by government to provide resources to enable the Media, Information and Communications and Legal Affairs Committees of Parliament to discuss the Access to Information Bill (ATI), as a way of frustrating efforts to enact it into law.

MISA Malawi Chairperson Thom Khanje in an interview yesterday said it has come to their knowledge that government has not yet provided resources to enable the two committees meet ahead of the next sitting of Parliament which is scheduled to start in November.

“We have heard that other committees were able to meet as scheduled but the two committees are yet to do so because government has not yet provided resources. We suspect that it is a means to frustrate the bill and let it die a natural death,” he said.

However, Khanje said if the bill is to be tabled again in Parliament then they expect to see significant changes, making it superior not inferior to the official Secrecy Act.

He said information, under the ATI should be easily accessed even with the existence of the official Secrecy Act.

“To us that makes the bill useless because you will agree with me that almost all government information is protected under the Secrecy Act, government officers also take that secrecy oath,” he said

He further said investing powers in Minister of Information as overseer of the law makes it more irrelevant in regards to the whole purpose of enacting it into law.

We believe in having an independent Information Commission. If government thinks it cannot set up the office because of resource constraints they can entrust that job to another body for instance the office of Ombudsman or Malawi Human Rights Commission,” he said

Recently Chairperson of the Media Committee of Parliament Sam Kawale told The Daily Times that they are waiting for logistical arrangements from secretariat

The bill was referred back to the responsible committees in the last sitting of Parliament as lawmakers argued that it was diluted.

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