Guide to requesting information from any state body in Malawi

March 1, 2011

Should it become necessary to enforce one’s right to access information in terms of the Constitution, we provide a quick guide that would make it easier for a claimant to present their case for review in court. The guide emphasizes the importance of proper record keeping. It provides samples of an overview sheet, a phone call log and a physical follow-up log. In the absence of a statute that lays out the details of implementation of the constitutional guarantee, one should be able to show the court details of what they did on their request, when they did it, and the public officials that they have been dealing with. The court would then be better placed to determine that the state organ in question failed in its constitutional obligation, as the custodian of public information, to make that information available. This is a right that is actionable through the court in Malawi and as valid a human right as one’s right to vote.

The lesson that I left with after watching a stonemason at work, while on a break outside our office building, was a simple reminder for my programme’s work in Malawi… start with what you have and work at it until it becomes what you want it to be. Malawi has no legislation providing a framework for implementing the right to access information, but has a constitutional provision giving every person in the country the right to know. Much as we agree that the access to information terrain would be much easier to navigate were a statutory framework is in place, this should not stop any person in Malawi from choosing to exercise their right to access information in terms of their Bill of Rights.

SALC enables our partner organizations to access government held information and to then use that information to promote and protect other human rights. The Malawi legislature in 2005 stonewalled a bill prepared by civil society that would provide a framework for the implementation of the constitutionally guaranteed right of access to information. This framework would inter alia provide details such as; to whom the request for information would be made, timelines for government to respond to the requests for information and provide clear avenues for recourse and redress where one is not satisfied with the response given by government to the request for information. What has been ignored for year is that the constitutional right to access information given to every person in Malawi is there.  People must make use of it.

The craftsman outside our office building started with a very rough bumpy surface, threw on some cement, refining it, smoothing it over, threw on more cement, smoothed it over with a fine brush, and ended up with a flawless wall surface. We hope this quick guide to requesting information in terms of section 37 of the Constitution of Malawi proves to encourage this refining process in exercising the right to access information in Malawi.

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