After twelve years without access to information, Malawian
civil society, in conjunction with the National Media Institute
For Southern Africa (NAMISA) has managed to push
government to introduce the Access to Information Bill to
be soon tabled in parliament.
Speaking at the second day of the Southern Africa Social
Forum meeting in Lilongwe, Innocent Chitosi national director
(MISA )Malawi disclosed that following the drafting of the Bill by
NAMISA and appearances before the Legal and Communication
Committees of Parliament, the Ministry of Information has now
taken over the draft bill and handed it over to the Ministry of
Justice before tabling it before Cabinet.
In the absence of the Access to Information Act the media
in Malawi has been denied vital information by public officers
resulting in local people not being informed correctly.
The government and other stakeholders have been looking
at the Access to Information Act as only beneficial to the Media
and subject to abuse by the same media.
Chitosi observed that the government has been withholding
information under the guise that information was power and
that it could not share it with anybody else. Most of the public
relations officers are not specialists and not well-resourced,
coupled with the centralised beureaucratic way of handling
information in public offices has remained a challenge in the
absence of the Bill.
Among other things the Bill seeks to promote transparency
and accountability within the public sector while at the same
time ensuring that the freedom of expression, as provided in
the country’s constitution, is respected.
The public will have a voice in the projects and decisions the
government seeks to carry out and whistle blowers and national
secrets and security issues will be protected as well.
“Africans, Malawians included, must create a culture of
openness and formation of Media networks in the sub-region in
order to make governments accountable to the public,” he said
in his presentation.
Only 55 countries in the world have enacted access to
information laws with South Africa and Zimbabwe as the only
countries in the sub region having enacted the same.
Although (Namisa) wished the Bill would be tabled in
Parliament, the Information Ministry has asked for time until
June next year to have Parliament’s approval of the Bill.