Speaker Richard Msowoya on Friday referred to parliamentary committees the Access to Information bill after the opposition tore it apart, saying the bill was in actual sense a roadblock to information as it is “adulterated”.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) MP for Lilongwe East Ezekiel Ching’oma said it was uncalled for for the government to demand a fee for any person wishing to obtain information from a public office.
“There are poor people struggling to make ends meet but want information…This shows the government does not want to give out information, the MCP therefore says information should be provided for free,” he said.
He said the Republican Constitution is very clear that everyone should access information for free.
“We do not have to force people pay for a service they are supposed to get for free,” he said.
Chingoma also took on the government for including a clause in the bill which bars people from getting information which happened before the bill became into law – retrospectively.
“This defeats the whole purpose of of the bill. We are coming from a long history of rigid regime therefore the bill should not give room to public officers who do not want to give out information, this is retrogressive,” he said.
He described as an embarrasment the clause that bars people from getting information which happened before the bill became into law.
The MCP lawmaker said it is only a criminal law which does not allow retrospective crimininalisation.
“People should get access to public information from time immemorial otherwise this bill is useless, what is it that the government is hiding,” asked Chingoma.
Added he: “Malawians have a right to know how their government has been operating in the past. This is the only way they can hold their government accountable. They need to know what has been happening at Capital Hill because this government is run with their money.”
Spokesperson for Peoples Party , Agness Nyalonje urged the parliamentarians not to view the bill as a war between politicians and journalists but rather for the good of the country as it will enhance checks and balances for the government for a vibrant democracy.
“Information without its archive is useless,” said Nyalonje.
“This bill is not giving public access to information but is denying the,” she noted.
Leader of the House George Chaponda then asked Msowoya to refer the bill to Media committee and Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament.
The Bill was gazetted on February 19 2016.
But local media watchdog, Misa-Malawi and other civil rights groups accuse the government of doctoring and adultering the bill, saying it would be one of the worst laws in the world if parliament passes it as it is.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) also added their voice expressing their “disappointment” at the “undemocratic elements” in the gazetted bill.