As the world commemorates International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) today, MISA Malawi calls on government and stakeholders in the telecommunications sector to ensure universal access to reliable internet for access to information.
Recognising the significance of access to information, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 28 September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information at the UN level in October 2019.
The theme for 2023 IDUAI is ‘The Importance of the online space for access to information’, recognising the role of internet and other digital technologies in promoting the right to access information.
This day and its theme are a great opportunity for us to remind the government, its agencies such as the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), telecommunications companies and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that many Malawians have no access to internet.
Current estimates put internet access in Malawi at about 24.4 percent, suggesting that about 75.6 percent of Malawians are not connected and are not able to access relevant information online for the enjoyment of different rights and freedoms. (MACRA and National Statistical Office Access to ICT and usage Survey of 2019 puts the access to internet figure around 14 percent and results of 2023 survey are not out). Worse still, slow connection speeds characterise internet services in Malawi and the high cost of internet access remains a barrier to internet adoption and usage.
We remind government that the Internet has become an essential tool of communication and means for accessing relevant information on education, health, agriculture, environment, natural disasters and other businesses in life. Internet is facilitating inclusion in the development agenda and has also become an important platform for social and political discourse, right to assembly and freedom of association. It is therefore important for the government and other stakeholders to ensure that internet access improves and systematic steps and strategies adopted to ensure access for the marginalised 75.6 percent of Malawians.
MISA Malawi recognises efforts by the government and MACRA in terms of policy direction on digitalisation. We have witnessed the formulation of ICT policies and strategies aimed at facilitating digitalisation, but we need the implementation of the dreams and aspirations in those policies and strategies.
We also call for proactive disclosure of public information by public and relevant private bodies. Our Access to Information Act recognises the need for information holders to make use of internet platforms such as websites in giving out information to the public.
On this day, we would also like to remind public bodies that they are just custodians of information in their respective offices and everyone has the right to access it. We therefore call for an end to the culture of secrecy in public bodies. By now, all public institutions were supposed to put in place mechanisms for accessing information as guided by the ATI Act and its regulations.
For Malawi to be more inclusive and effectively utilise all the human resources we have in achieving Malawi2063, right to access to information is crucial and, in this digital era, that can be achieved by ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to reliable internet and information.
MISA Malawi Chairperson Golden Matonga
Cell: +265 99 616 9705 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
MISA Malawi National Director Aubrey Chikungwa
Cell: +265 999 327 311 or email email@example.com