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Parliament committee, minister differ on ATI Bill

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Parliament’s media, information and communications committee has said it is uncertain when it would table the report on the Access to Information (ATI) Bill, contradicting Minister of Information and Communication Technology Malison Ndau who said it would be presented on Monday.

Chairperson of the committee, Sam Kawale, said on Sunday they were waiting for Parliament’s business committee to meet and set a day to make the presentation.

“The report is not going to be presented tomorrow [Monday]. We are going to wait until the business committee puts it on order paper. That is when they will let us know when to present the report. But on our part, we are done with the report,” Kawale said.

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But in a separate interview on Saturday, Ndau said the report would be presented on Monday.

“First of all, I must say it is one of the most prioritised bills in the Parliament for this sitting. The two committees — legal affairs and media — it was referred to have been consulting different stakeholders to get their views on what to be included and what not. So, the committee has finished that process. What was remaining was to put the views together as a report. So they met last Friday and Monday [today] they will present the report,” he said.

According to Ndau, the discussions on the bill will then commence the same week or a week after.

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After the presentation of the report to the House, it is read by the members and discussions begin on the proposed amendments. When the amendments are adopted, the bill is passed.

The much-criticised bill was referred to the two committees in July 2016.

In the bill, the government inserted a provision that would oblige people seeking information to pay a fee, but the development stirred debate in the House as most opposition members argued that the provision would defeat the whole purpose of enacting the bill.

Kawale could not, however, disclose what has changed in the bill, saying the report should first be presented in Parliament.

After the bill was gazetted in February this year, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa Malawi Chapter) and the Media Council of Malawi took exceptions to some provisions and appealed to the government to review its current position on the bill as it undermines the right to information as provided for in Section 37 of Malawi’s Constitution.

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