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The donor fearing Malawi leadership

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The European Union (EU) should be commended for including the passing of the Access to Information Bill as one of the pre-conditions for resumption of budgetary support to Malawi.

Other donors should also be encouraged to do the same as that seems to be the only way our government will be compelled to finally bring this much talked about and long awaited bill to Parliament.

It’s, however, unfortunate that it has to take donor pressure for the government to see the importance enacting the Access to Information Bill which is very important for the development of the country.

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It has been proven elsewhere that Access to Information law promotes transparency and accountability in government, helps in the fight against corruption, facilitates citizen participation in governance and makes available to the people information for the exercise of their political, economic and social rights.

No wonder, the framers of our republican constitution envisioned the importance of having such a law in the country and included Access to Information among the bill of rights in the supreme law of the land way back in 1995.

However, 20 years down the line, politicians in successive governments in the country have dragged their feet in facilitating the drafting and enactment of an Access to Information law which would be very instrumental in facilitating procedures and processes for citizens to be able to access information they may need from public offices.

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It is, however, not surprising that our politicians tend to fear the enactment of the Access to Information Law. When one hears of all the theft and abuse of office that takes place in government, it becomes clear why politicians and government officials become wary of having an access to information law in the country.

The politicians and public officers know that empowering citizens to access public information freely and easily would expose their malpractices and under-hand dealings whose records are available somewhere on the shelves in the offices.

Cashgate and other fraud cases that happen every day in government is the main reason why politicians and public officials wouldn’t want citizens to have the right to access to information that could enable them know what happens in the government offices.

But Malawi is bigger than politicians and public officers. They say that you can delay change but you can’t stop it. Time has come for the people of Malawi to be empowered as the owners of all public resources in the hands of political leaders and public officers through an Access to Information law.

Typical of Malawian leaders, they have tried all tricks in the book to play delaying tactics and frustrate all processes that could lead to the introduction of the Access to Information Bill in Parliament with the aim of making sure that such a law does not see the light of the day in the country.

Promises have been made, the bill has been included in campaign manifestos of political parties and dates have even been mentioned of when Malawians should expect the bill in Parliament but all of these have ended up being false.

While some bills easily and quickly get through the bureaucratic processes in government and introduced in Parliament without even stakeholder consultations, the Access to Information keeps being tossed between government ministries with non-stop queries that keeps dragging the process of bringing to Parliament for consideration.

Loud calls by Malawians through the media and civil society organisations to have the bill enacted have fallen on deaf ears and the present government seems to be following the style of their predecessors who made false, empty and unfulfilled promises regarding the Access to Information Bill.

Thanks to the European Union, the language in government as sensed through Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe and Minister of Information Kondwani Nankhumwa, seem to indicate that bill may come to Parliament in the next sitting, probably in November.

But should it really take donors to make our government do something that is critically good for the people and the country? So the government fears the donors more than its own people Shame on the government. And #ThumbsUp to the European Union for pumping some sense in the heads of our leaders.

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