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The unpaved path to destination digitalisation

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FOR DATA PROTECTION— Riddell

‘Malawi is one of the few remaining countries worldwide that currently lacks a Data Protection law or Data Protection Authority. A robust data protection regime is essential for giving citizens and businesses the confidence they need to engage in the information society.’

By Alinafe Mlamba:

Implementation of the Digital Malawi Project, an initiative meant to leverage digital technologies and steer economic growth, innovation and job creation, has stalled due to the government’s delays in drafting the Data Protection Bill, which is stuck at the Ministry of Justice.

The bill is part of the digital ecosystem component of the Digital Malawi Project, which commenced in 2017.

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The government has been implementing the Digital Malawi Project in partnership with the World Bank with the aim of supporting a comprehensive, long-term investment in Malawi’s digital transformation.

Through the Digital Malawi project, which is in this case being implemented by the Public Private Partnership Commission (PPPC) on behalf of the Ministry of Information and Digitalisation, PPPC was tasked to draft the bill as consultants.

Our investigations indicate that PPPC was entrusted with consultation works for the bill, with the works getting submitted to the relevant ministry in February this year.

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PPPC Chief Executive Director Patrick Kabambe confirmed to The Daily Times that they completed their task.

“We finalised the consultation process and handed over [everything] to the Ministry of Information,” he said.

ICT Association of Malawi President Bram Fudzulani fears failure to safeguard data privacy is a hindrance to the country’s efforts to achieve the digitalisation agenda.

He said Malawi needed to have requisite digitalisation legislation if it were to benefit from global and regional opportunities like the African Continental Free Trade Area.

“We cannot progress with the digitalisation agenda if we do not enact laws that protect and safeguard the privacy of the data subject.

“E-commerce cannot thrive if we, as a country, fail to enact data protection and privacy laws to protect the collection of personal identifiable data which is usually collected on these online websites,” he said.

When contacted, Justice Minister Titus Mvalo said the delay has been caused by a lack of adequate documentation from the line ministry, but assured that the bill would be presented in the next meeting of Parliament.

While noting that Malawi is one of the few countries yet to enforce data protection laws, World Bank Country Manager for Malawi Hugh Riddell said the financier is keen to have the new law as it is essential for development.

“Malawi is one of the few remaining countries worldwide that currently lack a Data Protection law or Data Protection Authority. A robust data protection regime is essential for giving citizens and businesses the confidence they need to engage in the information society, particularly when using social media and sharing data online,” he said.

Riddell further emphasised that the Data Protection Act is one of the key contributors to the business sector, as such, they were waiting for action from authorities.

“It is also an important facilitator of trade in digital services and serves to attract foreign investment. Under the Digital Malawi Foundations Programme, Phase 1, the World Bank has been working with Macra [Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority], the regulatory authority, to develop a draft Data Protection Act,” he said.

The draft legislation was forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for review and [is set] to be forwarded to Parliament for consideration.

“The process of drafting a bill is not simple and understand that this is a Ministry of Information Bill and a lot has been going on, hence saying we are still drafting. We are planning to have it ready by the next meeting of Parliament,” he said.

If passed, The Data Protection Act will provide guidance to organisations and give them guidance on how to handle personal data, a critical issue, especially at a time Malawi is trying to embrace digitalisation.

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