The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for Development of People (Cedep) in a statement made available to Nyasa Times expressed their “disappointment” in the “undemocratic elements” in recently approved ATI bill by cabinet.
Citing that vital sections in the bill have been removed by the president referring to them as inconsistent. However, these include: clause 6 which validated any other law restricting the disclosure of information and stopped future parliaments from passing the law which infringed on the rights and obligation of the ATI law.
CHRR and Cedep executive directors Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence respectively, said changes to the draft bill resulted in a “missed opportunity for democracy.” The statement says, “The latest Bill only vindicates those of us who had long-held fears against President Prof. Peter Mutharika’s insistence to iron out ‘inconsistencies’ as well as ‘align the bill with other laws’ before tabling in parliament.”
The advocacy groups also object the practice of charging Malawians for information and making the law prospective only.
They objected to the introduction of fees for Malawians to access information to be determined by a public or private body “limited to reasonable, standard charges for document duplication, translation or transcription where necessary,” according to Clause 18.
They also drew attending to removal of a provision that information holders should disclose information in the public interest such as unauthorized use of public funds.
They opposed not applying the law to information created before the law was enacted.
The Maravi Post published a lengthy article by Jimmy Kainja suggesting that government won’t make the bill retroactive in order to protect audit reports that would expose corruption.
The government removed the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) as the oversight body on the right to information. Appeals would go to the courts.
“It is in view of this that CHRR and Cedep are calling upon all well-meaning parliamentarians to reject the gazetted version of the Bill once tabled in parliament till such highlighted concerns are addressed in line with the Constitution of Malawi, the supreme law of the land,” the statement says.
Nyasa Times quoted Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango defending the changes, saying the government wants to “shorten the process and remove bottlenecks” and that the commission has no capacity to handle the oversight role.
The advocacy groups define the above changes as “missed opportunity from democracy.”