Hon. Folks, at last ATI has been assented to, bravo Mr. President! The last time media managers called on APM to plead for the passing of the unadulterated version of ATI, he put his foot down, vowing that should his favoured watered-down version of ATI be tampered with, he would veto the passed Bill.
He wanted a law on access to information that pretty much allowed government to choose what public information to give out and on what terms. There was no protection for whistle blowers, no independent oversight body and they made sure that the access itself was cobwebbed by all rusty, colonial laws militating against it.
I guess the change of heart is a result of pressure from various quarters—media, CSO, the Legislature, donors, faith communities and folks in the village. But it could also come from the realisation that the people surrounding him may indeed harbour ulterior motives when giving him advice on governance.
If there was any doubt, the Chaponda saga must be an eye-opener.
A towering figure both in DPP and government, Dr. George Chaponda has scaled the heights of DPP politics much longer than APM and has the education and maturity befitting a trusted mentor and advisor.
I bet when APM was instituting the Msosa Commission to probe intrigues surrounding the procurement of maize from Zambia, least on his mind was the fear that Chaponda could be caught pants down.
But that’s exactly what the Commission, not the media, has established. Its report, presented to APM on Monday states: “The Commission finds the conduct of the Minister, Hon. George Chaponda, in his dealings with Transglobe, a locally registered company and trader of maize, most inappropriate, suspicious and raising issues of corrupt practices.”
It adds: “the dealings between…Hon. Dr. George Chaponda, MP, in this procurement process should be further investigated by the ACB…”
A joint Parliamentary Committee which also independently probed the maize saga, in its report to Parliament on Wednesday, urged APM to “publicly censure” Chaponda for “arbitrarily and wrongly” using his influence to bring Transglobe into the maize deal.
It said the Minister violated public procurement laws.
In the court of public opinion, the calls are getting louder for Chaponda to step down as Cabinet Minister. It’s not hard to see why. His integrity is too compromised for him to be entrusted with such a high office on the land.
More so now when we have consistently been poorly rated on Transparency International’s Perception of Corruption Index (PCI) and when government is trying hard to spruce its image to regain direct budgetary support halted as a consequence of massive looting of public funds, better known Cashgate.
Unless cleared of corruption by competent authorities, Chaponda is right now too compromised to be on the forefront selling Malawi as the economy, donors and investors can trust to do business with.
He should voluntarily go as did former minister of agriculture Joe Manduwa when he had a criminal case to answer. If he can’t resign, APM should fire him just as his elder brother, Bingu, did with Yusuf Mwawa when the latter was saddled with an embarrassing case of using public funds for his hotel wedding.
With decentralisation, increased public funds are allocated to the districts for funding council operations and development projects at the grassroots. Good as the decentralisation system is, it poses the highest risk of spreading Cashgate from Capital Hill to the districts. Already, this is happening.
ATI is one tested and proved corruption-seeking weapon in the hands of ordinary people, not media as APM and cronies fear. What’s needed now is for government and CSOs to civic-educate the people on how ATI can be properly and effectively used for greater transparency and accountability at both the central and local government levels.
Thank you APM for assenting to ATI. All your predecessors cringed at its mention as if it were a cancerous tumour on their political life.