19 September 2017

Malawi 'Legal Curse' - Chrr Wary Over Implementation Delays of Access to Information Act

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) says it is "shocked" with reports that the much anticipated implementation of the Access to Information Act (ATIA) is yet to take effect.

Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) Executive Director, David Nungu told the Parliament's Media Committee that the "financial needs for the commission to efficiently and effectively oversee the implementation of the Act, are K335 759, 140" against the current budget of K28 million.

The governance and rights watchdog said in a statement made available to Nyasa Times that finds the grim reports "disconcerting, if not utter frustrating."

CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo, in the statement, said it is becoming "a legal curse" in Malawi that after passing progressive pieces of legislation, the country cannot implement them, ostensibly due to resource limitations.

Mtambo pointed out that the recently enacted laws such as Gender Equality Act, Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act "are still suffering from same resource limitation curse".

He said: "It's time the country reversed the trend, and government needs to take lead."

Mtambo said the "inordinate delay in implementing the ATIA" only serves to sustain the blatant violation of citizens' constitutional rights, particularly section 37.

"In fact, Access to Information should not be looked at as a stand-alone right. The law is strategic to progressive realization of other rights such access to justice and freedom of expression. In a country resources are being wantonly abused in various sectors, ATIA would come in as a remedy."

According to Mtambo, CHRR believes the absence of ATI law has only entrenched "unacceptable levels of corruption" in country.

Meanwhile, the organisation is calling upon the Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi to appoint the commencement date of the ATIA without further delay.

CHRR is further calling upon government and parliament to mobilise more resources for MHRC to enable them effectively implement to ATIA.

The law states that every government ministry, department and agency (MDA) must have information officers.

President Peter Mutharika in February assented into law the eagerly awaited Access to Information (ATI) Bill which was hailed by civil rights advocates hailed as a landmark achievement for the country in its quest to increase transparency and accountability.

ATI is expected to enhance protection of State resources by empowering the public and the media in particular to be able to legally force government officials and institutions to release information deemed of public interest.

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