Dust yet to settle on reforms report

Dust yet to settle on reforms report

Youth and Society (YAS) has petitioned President Lazarus Chakwera to act on the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) failure to release the Public Sector Reforms and Systems Review Report.

The petition follows a July 10 2023 YAS demand letter under the Access to Information (ATI) law for the OPC to make available the report, which was submitted to Chakwera on May 21 2022, to the organisation.

Chakwera receives the report from Chilima
on May 21 2021

Chakwera tasked Vice-President Saulos Chilima to lead the Public Sector Reforms and Systems Review Task Force in February 2021 to address wastage and corruption within the civil service.

The report also looked at overhauls of public service systems on allowances, procurement, and employment contracts and the task force comprised eminent persons from the public and private sectors.

YAS executive director Charles Kajoloweka in an interview on Wednesday said following OPC’s non-compliance as regards releasing the report, the organisation has petitioned the President in his capacity as head of the OPC.

He said: “The OPC did not provide any response to our request for the report under dictates of the ATI. It means we have been denied information.

“As per dictates of the ATI, the process requires that we appeal to the head of the information holder. In this case, the President is the head [of the OPC].”

According to YAS’ petition dated August 15 2023, the organisation has argued that per Section 27 (2) of the ATI if an information holder refusedsto provide requested information, such an act should be reviewed.

The organisation has argued that the review of such an act of refusal should be done by the head of a particular information holder; hence, the President in his capacity as head of OPC needs to review it.

Reads part of the petition: “YAS, therefore, formally submits this application for internal review to your office of OPC’s information officer’s non-compliance with the Access to Information law and his refusal to provide requested information.

“This application is being made in full cognizance of the provisions of the Access to Information Act, with YAS reserving for itself a right to take steps as provided by the Act should your Commission elect not act on the application.”

In its initial demand for the report, the organisation argued that it is in the interest of Malawians and that this right is being exercised under Section 37 of the Constitution.

YAS further argued that the release of the report will cement the transparency and accountability pledge that the Tonse Alliance administration made prior to the June 23 2020 court-sanctioned fresh presidential election.

When contacted on Wednesday, presidential press secretary Anthony Kasunda, said: “You may refer to our previous comment on this issue.”

On June 6 2023, the President said the report was not for public consumption but a reference for his administration.

Chakwera’s sentiments came amid calls from the media, civil society organisations, and numerous stakeholders to make the report public.

In March this year, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) decried low compliance with the ATI Act by government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) which still hide critical information to the public.

MHRC officer responsible for ATI implementation Chancy Kalolokesya said public officers who fail to comply with the law must be reported to the commission.

He said: “We can only act when we receive complaints.”

The President’s failure to release the Public Sector Reforms and Systems Review Report has lately attracted criticism from various stakeholders including the opposition and governance experts.

Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency executive director Willy Kambwandira recently told The Nation that Malawians need to have the document to enable them to hold the government accountable.

Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa also told Nation on Sunday edition of June 18 2023 that failure to make the report public signals lack of transparency and accountability within the government.

But speaking during the launch of the National Action Plan 2023-2025 for Open Government Partnership in Lilongwe on June 6 2023, Chakwera said the report is not for public entertainment.

He said: “The reforms report that I ordered and that was submitted to me by the Honourable Vice-President was not a document for public entertainment or public debates that produce nothing but noise.”

In a direct response to The Nation story published on May 29 2023 questioning his silence on the report, Chakwera said his administration is already implementing some of the recommendations.

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