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Peter Mutharika adamant on ATI Bill

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President Peter Mutharika has said he wants all inconsistencies in the Access to Information (ATI) Bill cleared before it is tabled in Parliament.

Mutharika has since declared that if Parliament passes the Bill with the inconsistencies he cited still in there, he will not assent to the passed law.

He was speaking Thursday at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe when he had an audience with media owners and managers.

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“If it goes to Parliament and gets passed, I will not assent to it if these things are still there. I want to protect all people and institutions,” Mutharika said.

He said the Bill will be passed if it is good for Malawi, not based on other influences.

“Malawians should decide what is good for them. If this law is good for Malawi, we will do [pass] it,” Mutharika said.

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He was specifically commenting on the issue of connecting the passing of the Bill to budgetary support.

Late last year, Mutharika expressed concern over two clauses in the Bill. The first clause is the one which says that the law will apply to information before clause is the one which states that no future Parliament should repeal the new law.

Mutharika’s position on addressing inconsistencies was despite the media owners and managers’ effort to explain the significance of the sections he cited.

Media Council Board Chairperson, Professor Wiseman Chijere-Chirwa, who spoke on behalf of the media owners and managers, said there was need to be clear on whether some sections of the Bill have inconsistencies or they just lack clarity.

“The other issue that we can talk about is the issue of amendment… Are we talking about inconsistency or lack of clarity?

“The two issues are different. So, is it the lack of clarify in the section or the inconsistency of facts? Because on that one, we have the Constitution that guarantees the access to information. Whether that one is retrospective or not, again it is an issue that we have to talk about,” Chijere-Chirwa said.

Lawyer Mandala Mambulasa, who is a National Governing Council member of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi, said Section 6 (2) of the Bill is based on African Union model law.

“Let me come to the issue that you raised about future Parliament being bound by Section 6(2). I think Your Excellency, on that point we want to slightly differ with you, in the sense that the way we understand that provision, any law that we pass in future… you may wish to know that it’s a standard provision, which is also found in African Union model law. Consultations were made before that law was developed. Unless we say all those processes were wrong, which I doubt,” Mambulasa said.

Present during the meeting were media owners and managers, including Times Group Managing Director Leonnard Chikadya, Zodiak Broadcasting Station Managing Director Gospel Kazako, Nation Publications Limited Deputy Chief Executive Officer Alfred Ntonga, Malawi Institution of Journalism Executive Director Dalitso Nkunika and Joy Media Group’s Esmie Malisita.

Other members of the delegation were Misa Malawi National Coordinator Aubrey Chikungwa, Capital FM’s Head of News and Current Affairs Steven Dakalira, Nkhotakota Community Radio’s Edward Kuwacha and Media Council of Malawi’s Executive Director Vales Machila.

In November 2015, the media owners and managers in Malawi, under the coordination of Misa Malawi Chapter and the Media Council of Malawi petitioned Mutharika to make public the ‘inconsistencies’ in the draft Access to Information Bill. Then, they had asked him to also ensure that the Bill was tabled before Parliament rose in December.

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