Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has poorly rated the Tonse Alliance administration’s first year in office, saying it is riddled with secretive dealings and persistent corruption despite making operational the Access to Information (ATI) law.
During a Zodiak Broadcasting Station television special programme assessing the Tonse Alliance’s first year in office, HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence said Malawians are still struggling to access public information despite having the ATI law in place.
He said: “The Access to Information law has its bottlenecks with implementation which is just on paper, but practically government is secretive and hiding information.
“Government is not willingly sharing information with the public. Malawians are sweating for it. For instance, the K6.2 billion Covid-19 funds audit report was leaked when government was sitting on it.
“The report on public sector review by a team led by the Vice-President is not being released despite demands from Malawians.”
Trapence also said corruption is rising amid reports of abuse of resources purportedly because government is dealing with people in the system geared at “feasting and self-enrichment” at the expense of the poor.
He cited the mismanagement of K6.2 billion and the K17.2 billion Covid-19 response funds which raised eyebrows over government’s commitment to fight corruption.
President Lazarus Chakwera’s administration, ushered into power through a court-sanctioned fresh presidential election held on June 23 2020, operationalised the ATI soon after assuming power. The administration said the move was meant to enhance transparency and accountability.
Reacting to Trapence’s sentiments during the same programme, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako, who is also the official government spokesperson, while admitting there are some challenges, said government was following the rule of law and procedures on how to release information to the public.
He said the Tonse Alliance administration is unique in the sense that people are able to hold it to account for its actions. He said information such as Cabinet assessment and the public service review report will be made public in due course.
“Malawians have the right to assess their government. The government follows laws and procedures when releasing information such as reports. We are a public government. We use public resources and we are accountable to the people,” Kazako said.
During the programme, Trapence also questioned what he described as slowness and indecisiveness by government to act on ills impinging on governance and rights of the people, citing the need to punish wrongdoers in ministries, departments and agencies.
He cited the firing of former minister of Labour Ken Kandodo by the President only for the Head of State to apologise later, saying he was misinformed. He also highlighted the President’s recommendation to have the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority board of directors changed for extravagant spending on an external trip as another example of indecisiveness.
But Kazako said the perceived slowness is because government is following the rule of law as well as procedures and principles of democracy.
He added that government is being seen as acting slowly because it is clearing the rubble by also cleaning and strengthening the systems to facilitate speedy actions.
Said Kazako: “We have worked on the systems, but not to the level that we want. Work is in progress. People are justified to say we are slow, but time is coming for running and they should brace for it.”
In his assessment, Trapence said government has failed to live up to people’s expectations in the first year of its rule, saying poverty levels keep escalating and that people are becoming poorer than they were in 2020 when the new administration assumed power.
But Kazako said over the years, poverty has been man-made because successive governments were watching few people amassing wealth through corruption at the expense of development.
He said: “We are a listening government and we will do what Malawians want. But much as we don’t hold a monopoly of wisdom on governance and development, we also hold a view that they [HRDC] should not hold the monopoly of correctness.”
During the programme, Kazako conceded that government has not created the promised one million jobs in the first year, but said the promise will be fulfilled albeit belatedly.
On successes in one year, the minister mentioned Affordable Inputs Programme, introduction of K100 000 zero-rated tax band, raising of minimum wage from K35 000 to K50 000, implementing ATI, presidential appearance in Parliament to answer questions, securing and rolling out Covid-19 vaccines, improved electricity supply, the National Economic Empowerment Fund loans and recovery of K3.4 billion from proceeds of crime, among others.
Kazako attributed slow progress to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But Trapence dismissed the argument, saying the campaign promises were made amid the prevalence of Covid-19 in the country.
During the post-May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, Trapence and his colleagues at HRDC marched alongside Chakwera and Vice-President Saulos Chilima in pushing for the resignation of former Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah for allegedly presiding over a flawed electoral process.
The High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court and the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal granted Chilima and Chakwera their wish for nullification of the presidential election and an order for a fresh election.