Advertisement
Columns

Access to Information and the UN trip saga

Advertisement

One characteristic of our leaders is their inability to learn from each others’ mistakes. It baffles me how they repeat same scandals their forerunners committed for which they got negative reaction from the public.

The trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York is a good example. President Peter Mutharika should have known beforehand that this trip attracts a lot of public scrutiny as evidenced by what former presidents Joyce Banda and late Bingu wa Mutharika faced when they went on similar visits during their time.

Malawians remember very well how both JB and Bingu were heavily criticised for having travelled to New York with a hoard of “delegates” which included what have become to be known as “presidential guests” normally in the shapes of ruling party cadres, traditional chiefs loyal to the regime and other hand clappers.

Advertisement

Even when Peter himself went on a similar trip last year, there were stories – true or false, about the large number of people he travelled with as well as the high cost of the hotel he used.

The president should, therefore, have known very well that this trip as well will attract attention, more so with the economic problems in the country which, among other things, demand fiscal discipline and sensitive use of public resources by the leadership.

Instead of finding ways of managing the public perception about the trip, Mutharika decided to go about business as usual by arranging and making the trip as if everything is okay in the country.

Advertisement

In the process, the president has missed an opportunity which he could have used to get some rare positive publicity at a time he is being criticised left, right and centre even for problems the country is experiencing as a result of mistakes of previous governments.

If I were the president, I would have done unusual things like drastically reducing the number of people, length of the trip and expenses for trip and provide full information about the same to the public to demonstrate how committed I am to fiscal discipline in the wake of the economic situation in the country.

In that way, the president would have won some public approval and pre-empt any speculation, rumours or even leakages of negative information about the trip. Instead, it is the usual secrecy and business as usual approach used in the trip that has given the president’s critics and opponents substantial ammunition to portray him as an uncaring leader to the public.

By the way, pre-emption of information by the administration is one of the provisions in the draft Access to Information Bill under what is called “proactive disclosure” where public officials are encouraged to give out information voluntarily to the public without waiting for someone to demand it.

This is why Access to information law is important to the country today because we are now living in a knowledge age where people are hungry for information and will always find ways of accessing it, even where somebody decides to hide it from them.

The problem, however, of letting people get information for themselves is that they often end up getting wrong information cooked up by some people for their own motives. So it is up to the administration to find ways of providing information to the public to protect itself from political damages that may come with distorted, exaggerated or even fabricated information.

The UN trip saga demonstrates the importance of the Access to Information legislation in as far as public information management is concerned. This is a bill that could also work to the advantage of the government, especially where an administration is committed to good governance and transparency and accountability and wants people to know about its good deeds.

A leadership that fears the Access to Information law only shows that they are not ready to change and want to continue running the country the way all other politicians have done it in the past 51 years where secrecy, corruption, self enrichment, favouritism and other bad governance practices have been the order of the day, making Malawi one of the poorest countries in the world, even without having experienced war or a major humanitarian crisis during that period.

Fortunately or unfortunately, no politician will survive in office today by continuing with that kind of politics. The events of July 20, 2011 as well as the results of the elections in May 2014 clearly demonstrated that Malawians are done with that kind of governance and cannot take anything that won’t change the way this country has been run over the past 51 years.

Any leader who cannot embrace what a Malawian of today wants should simply consider themselves to be in the wrong job. #ThumbsDown to the president.

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!
Advertisement
Show More
Advertisement

Related Articles

Check Also

Close
Back to top button
Close

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker