Two renowned human rights organisations in Malawi have said 2015 will be remembered as a year when leadership went to bed in as far as matching rhetoric with concrete action is concerned.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), in a joint statement made available to Nyasa Times to evaluate the performance of President Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in terms of governance and human rights in 2015, said the President was silent on critical issues requiring his decisive leadership a scenario that, according to the two organisations, often raised more questions than answers as to whether President Mutharika was in control.
The two organisations said Mutharika’s leadership is a departure from the “servant leadership” that Malawians hoped for, citing what it called NAC-gate, judicial strike, the sale of 75 percent Malawi Government shareholding in Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) and a strike by the Judiciary as some of the missed opportunities where the President failed to demonstrate decisiveness.
“In the midst of such silence there were contradicting messages emanating from the Cabinet and Mutharika’s village of advisers, and in some cases contradicting his own position. Due to such absence of leadership in 2015 it can be said beyond reasonable doubt that Malawi was running on auto-pilot”, reads the statement signed by Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence, CHRR and Cedep executive directors respectively.
State House has said the statement is too negative and that it reflects the lack of respect which the signatories have for the Head of State.
The rights groups also observe that 2015 was also characterized by vestiges of intolerance to dissent views by the leadership with critics of the regime either subjected to verbal threats by Mutharika and his cronies or banned from issuing ultimatums.
“It was in 2015 when Mutharika labelled the media, CSOs as ‘unpatriotic; hell-bent on tarnishing the ‘good’ image of the current leadership simply for holding him accountable on how he was managing the public pulse.
“Academicians and experts who comment on issues of governance were accused of concentrating on trivia rather than devoting to research when, in actual fact, commenting on such issues is part of their contribution to their society within the broader mandate of outreach roles”, reads the statement in part.
The two human rights organisations also faulted Mutharika’s regime alleged attempts to stifle the Civil Society’s voice and space using the NGO Board, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, CONGOMA and NGO law particularly targeting those CSOs which participated in a 13th January 2015 national demonstrations against abuse of HIV/AIDs related funds for activities that had nothing to do with HIV/AIDs initiatives.
“All this was happening against the full knowledge of the fact that it is not mandatory to register with NGO board, and that the NGO Act neither empowers the Minister of Gender or NGO Board to issue such decrees (of deregistering NGOs). Even the provision in the NGO Act that makes it mandatory to NGOs to be members of CONGOMA has been widely viewed as a violation of the right to freedom of association. This position has not only been supported by the development partners like UN but also reputable legal experts in the country,” argue the rights groups.
The statement adds that it was in 2015 when President Mutharika’s village of advisors was on rampage employing “divide and rule” strategies under the guise of dialogue to the extent of bankrolling [using the tax payers money] parallel demonstrations and NGO meetings to counter “bonafide” ones organized by aggrieved citizens over deteriorating public service delivery.
“Contrary to the austerity measures and public sector reforms talk, it was in 2015 when President Mutharika travelled with a bloated entourage, mostly his cronies, to a United Nations meeting in New York. Instead of admitting his executive failure on this, Mutharika and his village of advisors and some cabinet ministers embarked a high-level propaganda against the media for exposing this, and CSOs, opposition and analysts for taking up the issue to the extent of calling on government to publish the full list of the people who constituted Mutharika’s bloated entourage.
“A journalist was reportedly threatened by a Cabinet Minister for covering a story which was deemed critical of Mutharika’s UN bloated entourage.”
The culture of impunity over extra-judicial killings, reads the report, was also a concern in 2015, and that it was apparent just like the July 20, 2011 killings and student activist Robert Chasowa murder, Mutharika’s regime had demonstrated no political will to proactively act and conclude investigations into the murder of Anti-Corruption Bureau official Issa Njaunju, and also on reports that ACB director and other officials at ACB were receiving threats and living in fear.
“Instead, Mutharika’s government has either ignored such calls or in some cases merely made some political statements that something was being done but when the reality on the ground did not match such rhetoric,” reads the statement.
According to CHRR and Cedep, public service delivery worsened in 2015 with growing concerns over acute shortage of essential drugs, poor health service delivery system, persistent problems of water and electricity, insecurity, untimely payments of teachers salaries.
The rights groups also bemoaned Mutharika’s hide-and-seek on the enactment of Access to Information Bill, arguing that as a tool for building public trust and fight corruption access to information should have been part and parcel of the country’s laws by yesterday.
On a positive note, the CSOs commended the President and his administration for swift responses in the condemnation of the brutal attacks against people with albinism, reaction to the floods situation by effectively coordinating the national and international responses to the crisis and notable progress in Cashgate trials where significant convictions were secured.
The rights groups also commended Malawi government’s commitments to her international obligations as observed with its submission of reports at UN UPR and African Commission as well as its renewed commitment to the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
But presidential adviser on NGOs, Mavuto Bamusi, has condemned the statement, saying it portrays the hatred the signatories have for the President besides reflecting the authors’ “lack of maturity” in activism.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :