The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has said it welcomes President Peter Mutharika’s new measures to protect jobs, incomes, businesses and ensure continuity of the supply chain and the survival of the Malawi economy during the coronavirus crisis but has also offered its recommendations.
HRDC said in a statement made available to Nyasa Times signed by its acting chairperson Gift Trapence, national coordinator Luke Tembo, regional coordinator (Centre) Billy Mayaya, coordinator (North) Happy Mhango, coordinator (Eastern Region) Madalitso Banda and coordinator (South) Masauko Thawe that while commending the President for the measures, the key lies in the implementation by relevant authorities .
The rights coalition has since warned that it shall not condone “unwarranted, haphazard, cynical and opportunistic attempts” to curtail constitutionally guaranteed freedoms during virus crisis period.
“Rather, we request the government to concentrate its typically scattered mind on the serious business of actually saving lives in line with the best practices learned from other countries, and informed by the best medical practices,” reads the statement in part.
Mutharika declared a state of disasters on March 23 to combat the outbreak.
HRDC commended Mutharika for ordering cut in fuel prices for minibus operators to reduce prices that were hiked after government ordered reduction of passengers per minibus, a special fund be created for Admarc to buy agricultural produce at competitive prices and others to cushion the poor.
However, HRDC said it has observed gaps in Malawi response to Covid-19 like messaging about the virus prevention is yet to reach the vast majority of people especially those in hard-to-reach rural areas.
The coalition also noted that the exclusion of persons with disability in Covid-19 messaging, as well as a lack of emphasis on the gendered dimension of the pandemic which is likely to disproportionately impact girls and women in health-related and other ways.
It also observed that there are weak district and community Covid-19 multi-stakeholder coordination mechanisms to bring preparedness to the most vulnerable communities in Malawi.
“The poor conditions of some quarantine facilities for patients with Covid-19. There is need to ensure that all conditions adhere to human rights standards which emphasize patients’ dignity, and the necessity for recovery environments befitting of said dignity,” HRDC said.
HRDC faults the failure of government to initiate a multi-stakeholder (or multi-political parties) national response platform.
“ Including the opposition in the Covid-19 response will help build public confidence in the initiatives undertaken by government in a national environment in which trust has been battered and shattered. The current political situation thus demands political inclusivity of the Opposition to allay or obviate suspicion,” said HRDC.
The organisations also faulted the postures by the Executive to use Covid-19 as a political scapegoat against adherence to Rule of Law and the Malawi Constitution as regards the clear and direct orders of the Constitutional Court made on February 3, 2020 to hold fresh presidential elections.
“ A rapid response to Covid-19 in a constitutional republic such as Malawi, in which rights are not mutable seasonal privileges and in which all legitimate authority to govern emanates from nowhere else other than through universal suffrage conveyed through a credibly and lawfully cast ballot, attempts to forestall presidential elections while defying clear directions and orders by the Courts as well as efforts towards the same by the Legislature are deeply mistaken and will never be tolerated by HRDC and the public,” the coalition said.
HRDC has since offered its recommendations, mindful of the current social, economic and political context, that government must adopt an all-inclusive consultative approach that includes public health experts as well as leaders of various political parties.
“Critical decisions which might need to be taken should an escalation befall us will have far greater currency with the public in an inclusive framework,” the organisation said.
“This also helps address some of the human rights, rule of law and Constitutionalism concerns raised above by maximizing the number of elected personalities in the decision-making.
“Furthermore, government should avoid politicizing the pandemic as an angle towards perverting the Rule of Law in particular, in order to disobey Court rulings, and to preclude the fresh presidential elections,” reads the statement.
In the event that there is a national lockdown, HRDC advises government to focus on understanding its impact on the poor and vulnerable in terms of resilience and livelihood.
“What modalities will be put in place for the vulnerable to access basics? What corresponding modalities will be set in place for everyone to access basic commodities? “
HRDC has since suggested to government that Pay As You Earn threshold should be raised to MK100 000 or better still have a PAYE taxi holiday for a minimum of 3 months.
“Electricity and water prices including Malawi Housing Corporation rentals should be reduced by 30%,” said HRDC.
HRDC has also said there is need for government to put in place effective accountability systems in order to track how its various agencies, ministries and departments are using the taxpayers and donor money in response to Covid-19.
The coalition said the perennial temptation of using politically-connected organizations or companies (which have neither capacity nor mandate to carry out the nature of such responses) to divert and launder money intended for disaster response to party-political ends will not be tolerated.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :