ATI Bill hindering health governance reporting

Members of Parliamentary committees of health and media with CSOs at the meeting

By Jordan Simeon-Phiri

The country's media has been challenged to give health governance issues prominence over political news as one way of advocating for resources that would be accounted for by duty bearers if the country's health service delivery is to improve for the better.

Director of quality management and digital health (QMDH) services in the ministry of health Dr. Andrew Likaka made the call in Salima on Thursday at a national advocacy for Access to Information Bill (ATI) in relation with health rights and governance that Justice and Peace (JP) of Karonga diocese organised aimed at lobbying for the expedition of the implementation and operationalisation of the bill that was passed and assented to by President Peter Mutharika two years ago.

Speaking after a two-day meeting, Likaka noted that if the media was to thoroughly investigate funds that most institutions get for health-related programmes but end up being ‘Cash-gated’ by office bearers, the country's health delivery system would been a haven as each penny would be put to good use.

He said the reason health facilities are struggling to manage resources is because of the lack of serious watchdog role by the media which is more interested in covering political news that do not benefit ordinary Malawians.

 "While appreciating the role the media is playing in the country's socio-economic development growth, we feel there is a wide gap between politics and health governance issues in terms of coverage and that the media can do more than what it is doing.

Munkhondiya-We are doing all we can to have the Bill operational
Munkhondiya: We are doing all we can to have the Bill operational. (All photos by Jordan Simeon-Phiri)

"Most of the times political stories dominate front pages and headlines. Health governance and various challenges the health sector is facing rarely make it on the front pages, a thing that is contributing to abuse of resources and misallocation of funds and priorities by some key stakeholders because such areas are not being highlighted," Likaka said.

Likaka, however, said with capacity building, the media can do more to professionally investigate, write and expose ills that are taking place in the ministry of health and district councils that are hampering the health sector's infrastructure development and resource management.

He said his ministry will, in the near future, identify and train specific journalists from various media houses on health reporting.

However, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) noted that the only stumbling block is the delay by the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology to implement the Bill that would give an opportunity the media to get vital information from duty bearers and provide checks and balance to government.

In an interview, MHRC's deputy director for economic, social and cultural rights Luscious Pendame said with only a few days to go before parliament is dissolved, it would be hard to make a follow up on the bill unless the Minister of Information, Communications and Technology is summoned to explain what is delaying the operationalization of the Bill, saying government lacks the political will.

“With the absence of the Bill, it remains a tall order for journalists to dig into issues affecting the health sector and expose people who are building mansions and driving posh cars while the bonafide owners of those resources continue to languish in abject poverty,” Pendame said.

In his presentation, Programs Coordinator for Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) George Chiusiwa said lack of transparency and accountability by government departments is one contributing factor that is preventing journalists to dig deeper and unearth corruption and fraud of government and donor money.

Likaka for media capacity building
Likaka: For media capacity building

Chiusiwa cited a patients’ waiting shelter and a labour ward at Mpata Health Centre in Karonga district where a contractor vanished with a K109 million payment for a project that was abandoned at foundation level three years ago and no one at the district council, area development committee (ADC), chairperson or the district hospital office (DHO) knows who the contractor is and the terms of the contract.

"These other corrupt practices are hard to deal with. Imagine the contractor coming in an area without the knowledge of the DHO, DC and ADC. This is day light robbery because it means this was staged at a high level as people have failed to trace and summon the contractor as nobody at the local level knows him.

"It is only when there is that legal backing that would make it easy for both community leaders and journalists to push for the release of this critical information for the public to know how their money is being abused," Chiusiwa's said.

Speaking at the event, vice chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Media Godfrey Munkhondya assured all concerned stakeholders that his office will convene soon to map the way forward and make sure that the Bill is implemented.

MEC Stringer