Activists want presidential candidates’ commitment on ATI Bill

Health governance activists say presidential candidates in the July 2 fresh Presidential polls should promise that they will operationalise the Access to Information (ATI) Bill once elected.

Health and Rights Education executive director Maziko Matemba said in an interview that he is skeptical that with just less than 50 days to go to the Constitutional Court sanctioned fresh Presidential elections, government will operationalise the Bill that President Peter Mutharika assented to in 2017.

Said Matemba: “Access to information is a constitutional right for citizens. As such they have to freely get vital information related to health service delivery from duty bearers. The absence of the law is jeopardizing citizens’ watchdog role to provide checks and balances. This is why there is need to engage the three presidential candidates to make a commitment that once elected they will operationalise the Bill.”

Health governance project officer at Justice and Peace of Karonga Diocese Obert Mkandawire said the delay to operationalise the Bill is creating room for corruption and fraud in Councils through abandonment of health centre projects or construction of substandard structures.

“The delay is negatively impacting the quest to promote quality health service delivery as people fail to get information. For example,  the K109 million Mpata maternity wing project was abandoned at foundation level in 2013 and efforts to trace contractual documents of the project failed,” Mkandawire said.

Malawi Congress Party (MCP) publicity secretary Maurice Munthali said the only reason the ATI Bill has not been operationalised into law is because the current government has so much filth to hide.

Said Munthali: “The Tonse Alliance under Dr. Lazarus Chakwera will make ATI Law not only expeditiously operationalised but also allow it to work without any impediment”.

Mbakuwaku Movement for Development (MMD) President Peter Kuwani could not be reached for comment.

However, government spokesperson who is also Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Mark Botomani said the process to have the Bill operationalised is complete but the only stumbling block is COVID-19 which is preventing stakeholders from meeting to regulate the Bill.

In an interview, a Chancellor College based political analyst Mustapha Hussein said for the operationalisation of the Bill to be effected, there is need to put in place appropriate institutions such as Police, Ministries and government machinery to undertake the path of full enforcement and compliance of the law.

He said  this would enable the community to demand information from duty bearers.

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