COSOMA Privatisation: Artists press govt to reverse decision

Malawian artists led by the vocal musicians have warned of unspecified actions should government proceed with its plans to privatise the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA) a profit-making entity.

Speaking to Nyasa Times in Lilongwe this week, some senior members of the Musicians Association of Malawi (MAM) Central Region Chapter argued that privatising COSOMA is just as good as killing the music industry in Malawi.

Cosoma is a statutory body which aims at promoting creativity and protecting the rights of creators. Its functions include collecting and administering royalties to artists.

The members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they are strongly against government idea to privatise COSOMA and would apply everything to ensure that the move does not succeed.

“COSOMA is our parent and there is a lot that as musicians we benefit from the organization. We know if it is to be privatised musicians and several other artists who are affiliated to the organization will suffer heavily that is why we are against the idea to privatise it,” said one dreadlocked musician who refused to be named.

Dora Makwinja: COSOMA boss

Recently the musicians, led by their central region colleagues, planned to seek an audience with President Bingu wa Mutharika to vomit on his face problems they face one of which is the non-remittance of royalties to COSOMA by the national broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

At some point MBC owed COSOMA about K70 million in royalties but media reports this week indicated that the national broadcaster had finally paid about K45 million to COSOMA.

Artists are affiliated to COSOMA through their associations but some musicians are also individual affiliates.

Since it announced COSOMA’s privatisation, government has been conducting various consultative meetings with stakeholders and representatives of the artists from among others MAM, Journalists Union, Visual Artists, Malawi Writers Union and the National Theatre Association.

However, after a few meetings the process stalled. Right now there is no progress and nobody can successfully explain the dead silence that has also put on hold the future of COSOMA while its staff has been living on the knife edge.

One of the senior officers at COSOMA told Nyasa Times the development has really de-motivated them as they are not sure of their future.

The source revealed that for about five years now COSOMA has never received any subvention from government as is the case with other statutory corporations.

“This clearly shows that government has had the wish to do away with the organization for a long time now. This development has really affected us. It has come with several de-motivating factors and we really don’t know what our future holds,” complained the source.

The senior officer also revealed that there are possibilities that the decision might be reversed because COSOMA performs some direct government tasks.

“Part of the work COSOMA does is purely government task and that will make it a bit difficult for government to give that responsibility to a complete private institution other than a government institution body,” said our source.

“Those who came up with the proposal to privatise COSOMA made it out of sheer ignorance of what the organization really does. Several countries have flopped after privatisation,” added the source.

COSOMA was established some 20 years ago under section 41 of the Copyrights Act 1989 and it has two major tasks, which are to administer copyright law (enforcing the copyright law) and collective management (that involves licensing). It is answerable to the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture.

For about three years, President Mutharika has not appointed a Board for COSOMA and this has forced many of its operations to come to a standstill. In the absence of the board, it reports directly to its parent ministry (Tourism, Wildlife and Culture).

However, reports indicate that some senior officials at the ministry are not comfortable to work with the current COSOMA management that is headed by Mrs. Dora Makwinja because of the way the team has amassed wealth over the last few months.

“That is why the current COSOMA boss [Makwinja] has been acting as executive director for over two years now without being confirmed and yet she has the necessary papers and experience. Government brought in somebody to head it in order to get rid of the lady but it failed and now the issue is in court.

“But to be frank government better go back to its drawing board because what they want to do will not materialise. The guys at COSOMA have worked tirelessly to put where the organization is now and they want to destroy that? That is joke. They don’t know COSOMA is now on world map and various countries take it as a role model because of what it has done. Nearly every month, COSOMA officers travel to various countries to present papers on copyrights issues or train people on similar issues and Malawi best practises,” said a source within the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife who is too close to COSOMA activities.

When called for her comment on the issues, COSOMA acting Executive Director (Makwinja) was not reachable on her mobile phone while the ground line kept on calling without being attended to.

However, Musicians Empowerment Trust, a pressure group for local singers, has praised government for reforms earmarked for Cosoma.

The trust’s publicist, Patrick Simakweli claims Cosoma does not listen to musicians.

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