By Steve Chilundu, Nation Publications Limited
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter has called for increased awareness of the Access to Information (ATI) Act by the media and the public to increase utilisation of the law.
Misa Malawi chairperson Teresa Ndanga said this in an interview on Saturday [ October 2, 2021] at Mtolankhani House at the end of a training session on public communication organised for selected spokespersons working in public and private organisations.
She said a year after the law became operational, there is low utilisation which may continue to affect transparency and accountability in public institutions if massive awareness of the law is not undertaken.
Ndanga said: “It has been a slow process, to be honest, based on the number of factors, including low public awareness contrary to what we had expected.
“We think that the government and Malawi Human Rights Commission tasked with the supervisory role and implementation of the Act should do more to ensure people are aware on how to utilise the law and how to demand the information.”
She observed that one challenge that journalists face in accessing the information under the ATI is to do with the 15 days waiting to access the information from information officers which mostly works against deadlines.
Ndanga said on its part, Misa Malawi has trained some investigative journalists on utilisation and reached out to a good number of community radio stations to popularise the law so that the public can use it to demand information when need be.
One of the participants to the training, Monica Khombe, who is Malawi Bureau of Standards spokesperson, said the training was critical.
She said: “The knowledge gained through the training will help me to handle any communication crisis whenever it arises in the line of duty.”
Khombe said instead of waiting for the public, stakeholders and the media to seek information from MBS, she also learnt the importance of releasing available topical information to the public before it is even requested to manage public expectations.
The Act became operational on September 30 2020 and has now surpassed a year of utilisation.
The ATI law provides for the right of access to information in the custody of public bodies and private entities contracted by the government.