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ATI absence hampers public accountability

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The Civil Society Network for Accountability and Transparency (Csnat) has bemoaned the absence of the Access to Information (ATI) Bill, saying it is making it difficult for them to track how funds in local councils are utilised.

The complaint comes against the background of continued reports of abuse of funds in the councils.

Csnat’s 17 member organisations have been implementing the Local Governance and Accountability Projects with funding from UKaid through the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in 13 local councils.

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They argue that accessing information is difficult because there is no clear law to facilitate the process as even the Local Government Act is restrictive when it comes to accessing the information.

Yesterday, Csnat had an advocacy meeting with Members of Parliament (MPs) from different parliamentary committees including Media and Communication and Local Authorities whose aim was to lobby the lawmakers so that they can speed up the passing of the ATI Bill.

The network further wants the Local Government Act which has been reviewed to be tabled and passed so that it easies the process of accessing information from local councils.

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In an interview after the meeting, spokesperson of the network, Odreck Kathamalo, said the CSOs have been working in communities to update social contracts that councillors signed as candidates during the 2014 campaign period.

“Within the social contracts framework, we are supposed to carry out expenditure tracking, but in the absence of the Access to Information Bill, some important information is not made available.

“That is why we want the MPs to come in and push for the passing of the bill. Sometimes we are dodged or pushed from one point to another when we seek information. The MPs have been very open that once the bill goes to Parliament, they will support it,” said Kathamalo.

Chairperson of the Local Authorities Committee of Parliament, Harry Chimpeni, who spoke on behalf of the lawmakers, said the MPs are ready to work with the CSOs to ensure the ATI Bill passes when it goes to Parliament.

“Currently the bill is with the Legal Affairs and the Media and Communications committees and they are expected to present a report on it.

“Regarding the Local Government Act, I understand that it is currently at cabinet level and we hope it will be brought to Parliament next year. We are committed to ensuring all laws that make information easy to access are passed,” Chimpeni said.

Speaker of Parliament, Richard Msowoya, who officially opened the meeting, said the challenges emanating from lack of or limited access to information are many and varied.

“Lack of access to information undermines accountability and public confidence in our institutions. Public services do not reach those most in need in our society due to lack of information to conduct oversight of services provided and ensuring policies are fully implemented,” Msowoya said.

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