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Parliament committees yet to discuss ATI Bill

The Media, Information and Communications and Legal Affairs committees of Parliament are yet to meet to discuss the Access to Information (ATI) Bill ahead of the next meeting of Parliament in November.

The bill was in July referred to the two committees, with the then minister of Information, Patricia Kaliati, saying that the bill will be passed in the next meeting of Parliament.

In the bill, government indicated provision that those seeking information will be required to pay certain fee, a development that stirred debate in the House as most opposition members argued that such will distort the whole purpose of enacting the bill.

But in an interview on Tuesday, Chairperson of the Media Committee, Sam Kawale, said although his committee met last week nothing to do with the ATI was on the agenda.

“When we met last week, we did not discuss anything to do with the Access to Information Bill. We will discuss the matter when we meet with the Legal Affairs Committee, which will be before the next meeting of Parliament,” he said

Kawale expressed optimism that they will discuss the matter before Parliament resumes. After the bill was gazetted in February this year, The Malawi Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MisaMalawi), and the Media Council of Malawi (MCM), issued a statement appealing to government to review its current position on the bill, arguing that the bill seems to undermine right to information as provided for in Section 37 of the country’s Constitution.

The two bodies said should government insist on tabling the bill in Parliament in its current state, Parliament must reject it. They said they were disappointed that such key principles as effective enforcement, maximum disclosure, minimum exemptions, public interest override, simple, affordable and quick access procedures and whistleblower protection have been compromised.

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