PETITION TO PRESIDENT PETER MUTHARIKA
24th NOVEMBER, 2015
Tabling of the Access to Information Bill During the Current Sitting of Parliament
We, the Media Owners and Managers in Malawi – through the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Malawi Chapter (MISA-Malawi) and the Media Council of Malawi (MCM), met on 6th of November 2015 at Malawi Sun Hotel in Blantyre to critically reflect on the progress towards the tabling of the Access to Information Bill during the current sitting of Parliament.
During our introspection, we noted with profound concern that:
1. Cabinet had not yet discussed and recommended the Bill to Parliament and as such, the Bill was not yet part of Parliamentary Business. When Cabinet eventually met on Tuesday, November, 17, 2015, they discussed and referred the bill back to the Cabinet Committee on Legal Affairs on grounds that it has “inconsistencies”. The “inconsistencies” have, however, not been disclosed to the public.
2. Government has introduced substantive changes, without wide and effective consultations with the citizenry and concerned stakeholders and interests groups, to the proposed governance structure and obligations of civil society organisations (CSOs) to disclose information;
3. Government, through the public statements by Your Excellency, Minister of Information and Leader of Government Business, has communicated confusing, contradictory and imprecise messages about the state of Government readiness to table the Access to Information Bill during the current sitting of parliament;
In light of the foregoing concerns, we wish to remind your Excellency, as you are aware, that:
1. The right of access to information is a constitutional right, as per Sections 36 and 37 of the Malawi Republican Constitution as enacted in 1995, and its implementation or otherwise directly reflects on the constitutionality and quality of governance prevailing under any good regime;
2. The right of access to information is an enabling right which gives citizens access to information to able them to enjoy, exercise and demand all other rights and as such should never be left to chance or whims of individual duty-bearers;
3. The right of access to information obligates Government to supply people with reliable and necessary information as a precondition for the realisation of political, economic and cultural aims and aspirations;
4. The right of access to information aims at protecting and promoting individual and collective good in Malawi rather than sectional interests;
The right to access to information is an integral part of human rights in international instruments and it pleased Your Excellency when you drafted your Party Manifesto to include the enactment of the Access to Information law to support democratic governance in the country.
We, therefore, petition your Excellency, as custodian of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, to take due diligence and taking full responsibility by ensuring that:
1. The government makes public the “inconsistencies” as identified by cabinet for the public and other stakeholders to get a better understanding of the problems.
2. A meeting between the Legal Affairs Committee of Cabinet and the Task Force that drafted the ATI Bill be urgently convened to address the mentioned “inconsistencies”.
3. The Access to Information Bill is tabled before Parliament rises in December 2015.
4. Your Excellency use your executive powers to reject the adulterated version of the Bill and uphold the original version, which reflects the outcome of the inclusive international and domestic consultations that recommended a governance structure that establishes the Independent Information Commission and the “use of public resources” as justification for and scope limitation on private and CSO bodies’ obligations to grant access to information.
PROFESSOR WISEMAN CHIJERE CHIRWA
MEDIA COUNCIL OF MALAWI
NATION PUBLICATIONS LIMITED
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
ZODIAK BROADCASTING STATION
CAPITAL FM LIMITED
MALAWI INSTITUTE OF JOURNALISM