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MPs want MHRC to house information law

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Parliamentary committees on media and communications and legal affairs have recommended the entrusting of Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) with the responsibility of enforcing the Access to Information Law.

When it was suggested that an independent body be set up for the implementation of the law, government said that would be difficult in the wake of lack of resources for such a move.

In a report that Legal Affairs Committee Chairperson, Maxwell Thyolera, presented in Parliament yesterday, the committees said for the law to be effective and robust, there was a need for an independent public institution to be responsible for its enforcement.

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The committees, however, observed that the ideal situation could have been for the law to provide new and independent oversight institution but with lack of resources in the country such a scenario would not be attainable.

Thyolera said to address the legitimate concern of lack of resources, the committee explored the possibility of tasking the already established public institutions with the oversight mandate.

He said the committees considered several institutions including MHRC, office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Directorate of Public Officers’ Declarations but the functions of assets directorate and office of the Ombudsman were deemed not in line with the access to information roles.

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“The committees recommended Malawi Human Rights Commission to provide the oversight functions for the new law. The committees came up to this conclusion after satisfying themselves that the mandate that the constitution gives to the commission will not compete with the oversight function and would that not necessitate the constitutional amendment,” Thyolera said.

There will be a need, however, for the Parliament to allocate additional funds to the commission to enable it to develop the necessary capacity to carry out the added responsibility.

The committees also said the relationship between access to information law and other old statues will also be difficult and a new statute should be inserted into the bill to look into such challenges.

The committees have also recommended that the bill should guarantee the protection of whistleblowers and the punishment for whistleblowers who just aim at tarnishing other people’s images should also be clearly stated.

According to the report, the committees are conscience on granting public access to cabinet records as such information is deemed classified.

Seconding the motion to have the report adopted, Chairperson for Media and Communications Committee, Sam Kawale, said the consultations were not exhaustive and the report is in Parliament for further comments.

Kawale said there is also need for more scrutiny on which information to withhold. He mentioned dilemma that is there on information from the military.

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