CoST Malawi workshops spark media demand for transparency
Across the cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Blantyre, CoST Malawi recently held a series of training workshops for government, the media and civil society representatives. The workshops were aimed at reinforcing demand and supply of information on public infrastructure projects. With a focus on the CoST Infrastructure Data Standard (IDS), the workshops highlighted the data that government officials should disclose and how this disclosure can be used to demand accountability.
As Linda Phiri, Chief Executive Officer of the National Construction Industry Council (NCIC), explained at one workshop, “the media and the civil society play an important role in our societies especially in economic growth by making sure that all the processes of construction projects starting from bidding process to the closing down point are put in public domain” (All Africa, February 2016). However a lack of understanding often hampers engagement amongst these stakeholders. The workshops sought to overcome this challenge and received an overwhelming response, with 57 government officials and 89 media and civil society representatives in attendance.
In the last couple of months, there has been a dramatic rise in reporting on public infrastructure in Malawi. From reporting on the 5-year stall on construction of a school to the allegations that the Roads Authority (RA) flouted procurement procedures, the media is raising awareness of the need for transparency and accountability in public infrastructure. Through this dissemination, citizens now have increased access to the information they need to make informed demands about their local infrastructure. Furthermore, government officials have a greater understanding of the importance of being transparent and accountable in public expenditure. One participant even observed that by upholding the principles of transparency in the project management of public infrastructure, the country could transform its infrastructure landscape and avoid future foreign and domestic debts.
In the absence of a formal disclosure requirement in Malawi, procuring entities currently disclose data on a voluntary basis. However the government has recently revised the procurement law to include formal disclosure requirements, which is awaiting approval from Parliament. Enshrining the CoST IDS in national legislation would require government officials to disclose on 40 data points that are needed to hold decision-makers to account. CoST Malawi anticipates that the training workshops have built the foundations for its forthcoming assurance report and greater demands for accountability.