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Malawi Human Rights Commission wants access to cabinet records

The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has said information that people should be given chance to access, in line with the yet to be passed Access to Information (ATI) Bill should include cabinet records.

MHRC Legal Officer, Peter Mota, made the proposal, yesterday, to Legal Affairs and Media and Communications committees of Parliament in Lilongwe.

The committees are this week hearing views of different stakeholders on Access to Information (ATI) bill.

“We feel cabinet records are fit for public consumption. There should not be a blanket statement that they should not be for public consumption. There should be a way of making some information available to people,” Mota said.

He was commenting on Section 3 (2) of the proposed law, which outlines types of information that cannot be accessed.

Apart from information on cabinet records and those of its committees, the Section also states that the Act shall not apply to court records prior to conclusion of a matter, information excluded from publication under official Secrets Act and personal information.

Mota also mentioned Official Secrets Act, which he said can also be a stumbling block in accessing information.

“The spirit of Official Secrets Act is taking us back in as far as respecting this Act [Access to Information] is concerned. People may not be able to access some information,” he said.

But Mzimba South West Member of Parliament, Khumbo Kachali, defended the issue of not accessing cabinet records.

“My view is that the bill should stand as it is. If there is any information that needs to go to the public, there are channels that are followed. Members of the cabinet take an oath. They cannot divulge information that they are privy to,” Kachali, who is also the country’s former vice president, said.

But Vice Chairperson of Legal Affairs Committee, Harry Thomson, who was chairing the meeting, said the issues will be discussed further.

“That issue will be handled after the consultant has compiled his report. As a committee, we will make final recommendations,” Thomson said.

Lawyer, Khumbo Soko, is expected to compile the report.

In July, the Access to Information bill was referred to the two committees, after MPs expressed reservations on some sections of the Bill. Most lawmakers argued that the bill that was tabled that time was a total distortion of its intended purpose.

On Monday, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi appeared before the committee to present its position on issues it wants corrected.

Among others, Misa Malawi National Director, Aubrey Chikungwa, reiterated that, if passed in its present form, where a cabinet minister is given oversight powers, the new law will not serve the interest of Malawi.

Other stakeholders expected to present their views are Malawi Law Society, Law Commission, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Information.

The bill is expected to be passed when Parliament meets from November 21.

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