With Parliament set to convene for the 2016/17 National Budget deliberations in Lilongwe from this Friday, civil society organisations (CSOs) have asked legislators to prioritise the passing of the Access to Information (ATI) Bill.
Leader of the House Francis Kasaila indicated in an earlier interview that the long-awaited ATI Bill is one of the carry-over pieces of legislation expected to be tabled during the forthcoming meeting of Parliament.
Speaking in Liwonde, Machinga on Thursday during a workshop for the National Advocacy Platform (NAP) on State of the Union (Sotu) Malawi Project, the CSOs said without ATI Bill, Malawians should forget about attaining any meaning development.
Sotu Malawi coordinator Edward Chileka Banda said delays in passing the ATI Bill were denying Malawians an opportunity to participate and contribute towards finding solutions to challenges facing the country.
He said: “If Malawi is to move forward, there is need for participation by all groups and for that to be effective, people need to know what is happening and that only happens if they have access to information.
“This Bill is no longer just a privilege, it is a fundamental right. That is why we are advancing that ATI Bill becomes a priority. Its absence is locking out millions of people who should have participated and contributed in finding solutions to the challenges we are facing today.”
NAP chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba said the CSOs were pushing for the enacting of the bill not only for the sake of policing government, but also for the benefit of the organisations themselves.
He said: “The Bill also speaks to us as CSOs because the information we will be demanding from government, whoever is interested, will also demand the same information from civil society organisations.
“As such, while we are trying to push for the ATI, we also have to put our houses in order so that once the Bill passes and people demand accountability, we should not panic.”
NAP membership comprises 20 organisations, including Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter, Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn), Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen), Eye for Development (EFD), Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), Civil Society Agriculture Network (CisaNet) and Council for Non-Governmental Organisations in Malawi (Congoma).