CFJ Executive Director, Reinford Mwangonde reading the statement.
Citizens for Justice (CFJ), on 19th February 2016, in collaboration with Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Malawi), Journalists Union of Malawi (JUMA), and Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) organized a Press Conference, which was held at CFJ offices in Lilongwe. On the agenda was; the Access to information Bill and Open Government Partnership.
The Access to Information Bill, will permit the general public to access information from the government if it is passed as law. There has been a tug-of war to bring the Bill to Parliament since 2003. Both Organizations however, applauded the effort of the government to finally table the Bill in the current sitting of Parliament. Initially, President Arthur Peter Mutharika had faulted the Bill and insisted it had irregularities, which he identified as “inconsistences”.
CFJ found its interest in the Access To Information (ATI) Bill due to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) project. OGP is a multilateral institution that helps to make governments more open to its citizens. It aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. As an institution it has principles that countries must fulfil to be eligible for membership and one of such being Access to Information.
Malawi become eligible and joined OGP in 2013 as an initiative to bridge government and its people despite the absence of the ATI Law. However, Malawi needed to come up with an Action Plan which would be a platform of self-assessment by giving itself tasks and challenges to fulfil within a given period of time.
Citizens for Justice continues advocating for good governance and championing Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Malawi. Having failed in the past to develop National Action Plan, Malawi led by CFJ has finally developed a National Action Plan which will be launched in March 2016.
It was from this background that the participants at the press conference spoke to endorse the gazetting of the ATI Bill. The vice chairperson of the Media and Communications Parliamentary Committee present at the conference, assured the general public that the committee will scrutinize the Bill with expectation to meet the people of Malawi’s needs in taking public officers to task on service provision.
A statement read by CFJ Executive Director reverberated to commending government for its willingness to table the Bill. The statement also implored government to look into the issues that were raised by the President and stakeholders. Some of which included, retrospective application of the law and the idea by government to include Ministry of Information as an oversight and implementation body of the Bill in replacement of Malawi Human Rights Commission.
In essence, the press conference intended to raise awareness to the general public of the vitality of ATI to the democracy of Malawi. It was also meant to lobby the National Assembly and the government to seriously look into the Bill and pass it as law. .