BY: Stella Zulu Kaferapanjira

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) has attributed the challenges people are facing in the health institutions and services concerning health rights, to lack of Access to Information Law (ATI) operationalization due to delay by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, in setting a commencement date for the law which will ensure transparency and accountability in the health sector.

This come to light during a two days Access to Information Act advocacy and engagement meeting on heath rights issues in Salima, under the “Promotion of high quality, accountable and responsive public health service” project being implemented in Chitipa and Karonga districts.

During the meeting, participating national actors with similar interest with CCJP namely the Human Rights Commission, Media Institute for Southern Africa, and the office of the Ombudsman shared a common understanding that access to information is one of the measures to ensure that health needs of Malawians are met.  The delay by the Minister of Information and Communication Technology to gazette the commencement date is infringing upon health rights of Malawians.

Speaking for the Human Right Commission, Mr. Peter Chisi, the Director of Civil and Political rights, said the delay has big impact on access to quality health care in the country and its unfortunate that some concerned parties in the implementation of the law are not willing to honor the responsibility the Law allocated to them.

“The Law assigns to the Minister of Information and Communication Technology the mandate to set and publish in the gazette the commencement date for the Law. As we are talking, the ministry has not done so despite that Parliament passed the bill into Law on 14th December 2016 and the Presidential assent of the Law was done on 10th February 2017 and was gazetted on 16th February the same year. The minister is holding this Law from being operational due to the delay and people continues to face challenges in health service delivery.” Said Mr. Chisi

He continued that people see problems in the health system like shortage of drugs in hospitals and health centers, Indiscipline and misbehavior by health workers, but they don’t know how to participate in addressing such problems which leads to inefficiency in the health sector. As an oversight institution in the implementation of the Law, the Commission is convinced that all preparatory work in readiness for the operation of the Law has been adequately done and is ready for the operation of the Law

The Access to information Law empowers the locals to participate in management of their health service institutions. In his remarks, CCJP desk officer for Karonga diocese Mr. Louise Nkhata, said the delay by the minister in setting the commencement date is a political deliberate decision by government in protecting their interests.

“A common man is losing a lot with this delay, we expect the government to be exemplary in being transparent and accountable is this democratic country. With this Law in place, a number of problems being experienced now will be addressed. The project has established that people’s heath rights are being violated as there is a lot of abuse and robbery of drugs for example, because people cannot participate in the management of health budgetary and policy information process and expenditure of their health institutions. We want this Law to commence so that Malawians participate in making decisions about their health facilities which can only be possible if have access to information which empowers them.” Said Mr. Nkhata

He added that currently people are powerless and are crying in silence as they see problems and know problems are there in the health sector, but they don’t know what to do to address them and they don’t know where to go which the Law will clear out.

The project is being implemented by CCJP Karonga diocese in partnership with CCJP national office and Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) with funding from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) These advocacy institutions, envision that there should be improved access to high quality health services by people through transparency, accountable and responsive health sector that allows citizen participation in the country.