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Public officers dared on information access

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CHIYAMWAKA—
Demand itself is just
very low

The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has challenged public officers to embrace the culture of proactive disclosure of public information.

MHRC Chairperson for the Access to Information Unit Baldwin Chiyamwaka made the call as Malawi joined the rest of the world in commemorating International Day for Universal Access to Information

Chiyamwaka said Malawi is far behind, in terms of public officers and institutions to which the Access to Information law applies proactively making information public.

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He said such officers and institutions wait for people to come and ask for the information when they are supposed to voluntarily release it.

“Information holders should make information available even before people request for that information. Actually there is a whole section in the Act, Section 15, which imposes that duty. Proactive disclosure remains a challenge but even the demand itself is just very low,” Chiyamwaka said.

On the other hand, he indicated that Malawi had taken some steps in the right direction which includes having the law itself in place, which makes the government open by default.

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Media Institute for Southern Africa Malawi Chairperson Teresa Ndanga concurred with Chiyamwaka, saying Malawi is doing better than some of the countries in the region.

Ndanga insisted there is a need for mindset change among public officers.

“We were used to not providing information when it was required or proactively. Now, even where people have been trained and put in place, they are still finding it difficult to provide information,” she said.

Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said the Tonse Alliance administration believes in being accountable and transparent and that this is the reason it operationalised the Access to Information Act immediately after assuming office in 2020.

“We believe that it is only where there is transparency and accountability that we can develop and build a better Malawi that we are all dreaming to have.

“There are so many issues that have been brought to light because of the presence of this law. Malawians now know that tonnes and tonnes of envelopes for the next 26 years were bought at Escom because of this law,” he said.

Kazako, however, conceded that there is room for improvement, saying transparency and accountability is a new culture that has not been embraced by all public officers.

On November 17 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation declared September 28 as International Day for Universal Access to Information.

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