“The journey for advancing Open Contracting in Malawi can only be successful if we all come together to speak with one voice,” indicated Michael Kaiyatsa, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR)’s Ag. Executive Director at the end of the first multi-stakeholder meeting for Open Contracting Stakeholders that was held at Sogecoa Golden Peacock, Lilongwe on the 19th of December 2018.

The establishment of the Open Contracting Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) is one of the outcomes of the stakeholders’ training workshop that CHRR, with support from AFIC, earlier conducted in November 2018. The workshop focused on ATI laws, Public Procurement Legislation, Open Contracting, the Open Contracting Data Standards. This was followed by mentorship and coaching on how to use these instruments for our advocacy work. During the workshop, participants expressed the need for the establishment of a platform that would bring together relevant actors and create space for open discussion and dialogue around open contracting in Malawi. This process was spearheaded by CHRR, the Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN), and HIVOS; meetings were held thereafter, which resulted in the development of draft Terms of Reference.

The OC-MSG was thus formed on the 19th of December 2018 and formally launched on 29th August 2019. The secretariat is comprised of CHRR, CoST Malawi, Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC), the Council for Non-Governmental Organizations in Malawi (CONGOMA), Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP), and the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Malawi Chapter). The MSG, according to the ToRs, among other things reflects and brainstorms procurement and open contracting issues, through periodic and regular meetings held for planning and review i.e. for disclosure of open contracting data, the timely publishing of information related to the planning, procurement, and implementation of public contracts, action on feedback and redress for matters related to public contracting and other Open Contracting related issues.

The Group provides a neutral platform where these key stakeholders pursue shared objectives to improve compliance with open contracting commitments in Malawi. Through the OC-MSG has been very instrumental in advocating for transparency and sharing generated ideas with the relevant government officials to take action. They have been able to monitor contract implementation and call on the government to improve its disclosure. Through this advocacy, PPDA has been able to respond by building a new website that will contribute to improved disclosure of public procurement information. PPDA has also developed its own tender portal to disclose procurement data with a provision to disclose procurement plan information, tender notices, and award information.  However, the portal remains non- OCDS compliant and still has no data published in the various sections of the disclosure.

With the global disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, governments have been involved in various response mechanisms that require emergency procurement of various goods and services. The responses, however, have come with a number of transparency loopholes especially in Sub-Saharan Africa that require civil society to provide checks and balances and ensure that services reach those they are intended for.  In Malawi, CHRR in collaboration with the OC-MSG and other CSOs came up with efforts to demand transparency in the management of COVID-19 resources. This was done through media statements and physical meetings with responsible actors.

On 5th May 2020, CHRR, along with other members of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), engaged the ministers of health and information, Hon. Mark Botomani and Hon. Jappie Mhango respectively, and other senior government officials, seeking clarification on allegations that the ministers and other members of the cabinet committee on Covid-19 were pocketing hefty allowances in regard to the tasks related to the COVID-19 response. In that meeting, commitments were made, and the ministers’ budget on monitoring visits in regard to the COVID-19 response in Malawi. Since then, citizens have witnessed increased proactive disclosure of information, as far as COVID-19 response is concerned.

The Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) has also put in place measures to ensure transparency in COVID-19 related procurement. It is now a requirement that all Covid-19 procurement will have to follow open tendering through publications of invitations to tender on the PPDA website. Upon signing the execution of the contracts, the procuring entity shall publish the details of the awarded contracts on the PPDA website, including the name of the successful company or business, beneficial owners and directors of the company, details of the products or services offered, the value of the contract and status of the contract.

“Our calls for increased transparency in the use of COVID-19 resources have also seen the Department of Disaster Management Affairs of Malawi increasingly disclosing information related to COVID-19 expenditure,” expressed Michael.

According to expenditure details released on 6th May 2020, 47% of the total expenditure has so far been utilized by security agencies; the Malawi Police Service and the Malawi Defense Force. This has triggered debate amongst the citizens, questioning why security, and not medical supplies, is being prioritized, especially considering that healthcare workers have been staging sit-down strikes in a bid to force the government to provide them with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

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