MHRC orders government to release info

MHRC orders government to release info

 The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to disclose information pertaining to diplomats’ appointments.

This follows an appeal from Nation Publications Limited journalist Suzgo Chitete who, under the Access to Information law, requested for some information from the ministry, which refused to do so, citing national security concerns.

The contested information is a list of Malawian diplomats in foreign missions between June 2020 and August 2023; their duty station, role/designation, date of appointment and qualifications.

Sought MHRC’s intervention: Chitete

The ministry argued that sharing this information would compromise national security.

But in a determination released yesterday, the commission compels the ministry to share this information, as there is no good reason that the same can compromise national security.

Reads the determination in part: “However, regarding the disclosure of the information requested being a threat to national security under Section 30 (a) and (c) of the Access to Information Act, the ministry has not provided evidence that the personal information of the diplomats and other personnel can compromise the national security of Malawi. In reference to the above case, the ministry has not been able to show the causal relationship between the information that is being sought and the prejudice which might occur in any way.”

Chitete filed the request in September last year and with the intervention of MHRC, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided part of the information such as a copy of Malawi’s foreign policy and a list of diplomatic missions.

The ministry promised to share the rest by January 30 as it needed time to gather information regarding appointment dates, designation and qualification of all diplomats. But later, the ministry changed tune, saying it could not provide the remaining information as it would compromise national security.

Dissatisfied with the response, Chitete appealed to the commission to look into the matter further.

“The ministry should clarify how the disclosure of diplomats’ information can compromise national security if it insists on non-disclosure. The ministry should take necessary steps as advised in the commission’s previous letter to ensure familiarisation with ATI and ATI Regulations in order to ensure compliance with the law,” further reads the determination.

Reacting to the development, Misa Malawi chairperson Golden Matonga said the determination is a giant step in promoting transparency and accountability.

Said Matonga: “Oftentimes, MDAs decide not to comply with requests for information over flimsy grounds and the determination sets the bar higher on what could be justifiable grounds to warrant denial for requests for information. Crucially, the determination provides guidance on the critical question of national security versus access to information.

“We further applaud Nation Publications Limited and, in particular journalist Suzgo Chitete for his gallant work in ensuring that the law is enforced.”

The post MHRC orders government to release info first appeared on Nation Online.

The post MHRC orders government to release info appeared first on Nation Online.