The Access to Information (ATI) Bill will be passed by March 31 2016 to beat the deadline set by the European Union (EU) as one of the conditions for the resumption of direct budgetary support to Malawi, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe told Parliament on Friday.
The EU and the World Bank are currently locked in crucial talks with government to reopen aid taps closed over two years ago following Cashgate—the plunder of billions of taxpayer funds by public officials and businesspersons.
However, Gondwe on Wednesday told Parliament the two organisations had presented 20 conditions—chief among them the tabling and enacting of ATI Bill—before the resumption of aid.
Despite the condition, government has sent contradictory signals regarding when it would table the bill, to the anger of the media and the civil society.
But responding to a query from Malawi Congress Party (MCP) member of Parliament for Salima North West Jessie Kabwila on the matter on Friday, Gondwe said government was committed to tabling and passing the bill before the deadline for the talks on aid resumption.
“March 31 is the date we need to have passed the bill because that is the date we will be winding up our business of discussing budget resumption. If we don’t meet that deadline then we will jeopardise our chances of getting the budget support.
“This session will continue up to February. The President said this bill will be tabled in this session and not this meeting. We are ready to pass this bill,” Gondwe said.
The response prompted Speaker Richard Msowoya to ask whether the bill could be tabled later than 31 March given that a parliamentary session can last a year.
Kabwila further pressed the minister to explain why government had not brought the bill to the House immediately.
“Let’s not reduce the matter to semantics. We need the bill in the House now. It’s an important bill and Malawians have waited for so long, why March not now?” asked Kabwila.
On Wednesday, Gondwe told Parliament that apart from the ATI Bill, government has committed itself to eliminating ghost workers in the public service as well as reform the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), among others, to win back donor confidence.
“A large number of conditions have been agreed which we will have to satisfy before they can disburse the budgetary support that has been pledged,” stated the minister.
“For example, the two institutions require, inter alia, that we should have presented to Parliament the Access to Information Bill as well as implement reforms relating to the wage administration that will eliminate the ‘ghost workers’ in the system.”
On Fisp, Gondwe had said the donors have stressed that the country should completely reform the subsidy programme so that half of the fertiliser is sold through the private sector instead of State agencies, notably Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi (SFFRFM) and Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).
Additionally, the minister had told the House that the kwacha was still facing turbulent times, adding government needs strong adjustments to the situation.n