Malawi President told to open her ears and save resources

Moved by her apparently never-ending and extravagant country-trotting episodes, two renowned human rights groups have asked President Joyce Banda to consider coming up with a harmonised calendar when elevating chiefs.

The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) have observed President Banda’s actions sound “loudly ironic and a mockery” to cost-cutting measures her administration instituted late last year when she is always on the road.

They argue that the move ridicules the cost-cutting measures her administration instituted to save the “cash-gate battered economy”.

CHRR and CEDEP have since asked President Banda to relax her ever crammed local travel calendar as it “simply does not add up”.

Mtambo:  JB should elevate chiefs at one function than be on the road daily doing a job which can be performed by DC
Mtambo: JB should elevate chiefs at one function than be on the road daily doing a job which can be performed by DC

“We, at CHRR and CEDEP, have observed with dismay on the perennial tendency by President Joyce Banda to country-trot with a cohort of cabinet ministers and government officials just to promote chiefs.

“While the move in itself looks commendable, especially considering the daunting task traditional leaders have in advancing the development agenda of the country, we find the exercise not in tune with the current spell of the country’s economy,” say CHRR and CEDEP in a media statement.

The two organisations are of the view that the president and her administration should work around a single date when a number of ‘deserving’ chiefs on the president’s list could be elevated at once.

“This, we are sure, will not only help the president pay attention to equally pressing matters but will go a long way in saving the scarce public resources. Alternatively, the president may as well consider delegating such tasks to Minister of Local Government and Rural Development,” reads a statement signed jointly by CHRR and CEDEP Executive Directors, Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence respectovely.

In the same vein, CHRR and CEDEP also condemn the recent public threats the president and her State House press team issued against Joy Radio journalists and some citizens in Blantyre.

“CHRR and CEDEP gather the president publicly threatened those opposed to the elevation of Senior Chief Kapeni in Blantyre followed by an utterance of equally intimidating remarks against Joy Radio journalists [Lloyd Zawanda and Henry Haukeya] by government’s Political and Communication Affairs Director, Wakuda Kamanga,” says the statement in part.

The two organisations observe that such threatening remarks are only tolerated in authoritarian regimes unlike in democratic ones where dissent and alternative views are acceptable.

They say even more disheartening is the fact that such remarks came against the background that there was reportedly a standing court order which some estranged members of the Kapeni family were stopping the president from promoting the chief in question.

The organisations remind President Banda that media practitioners in the country have avenues such as NAMISA and Media Council of Malawi where those with misgivings against particular journalists can lodge complaints rather than opting for public censuring and threats.

“We urge government to desist from such moves as experience show that dictatorship and war against private media grow from such seeds of threats.”

CHRR and CEDEP also observe the sheer hypocrisy that has become of President Banda and her lieutenants of being the professed champions of media freedom and freedom of expression “when the reality on the ground portrays a different picture”.

“The recent statement by President Banda’s Special Advisor on Communication and Politics assuring the media of President Banda’s continued commitment to upholding freedom of speech and expression of views should be understood in the current context if we are to surely conclude on whether the President is being sincere or playing a “Pharisees” plot,” they say.

However, while concurring with President Banda’s belief, as presented by Kamanga that as a way of upholding media ethics and professionalism journalists ought to balance their stories accurately inform the masses so that they can make informed decisions, CHRR and CEDEP wonder if government is walking by its talk especially when the subject of the state-controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation is brought into equation.

“As clearly alluded to in our previous assessment of Joyce Banda’s 20 months in office, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation continues to treat itself as little more than a mouthpiece of the ‘ruling party’ of the day’ irrespective of the various unfulfilled promises of President Joyce Banda to open it up to all and ensure that it covers balanced news,” they say in a statement adding that by failing to tame its own state-controlled media, President Banda let alone her special advisors have no moral mandate to discipline Joy radio or any private media institution in the country in as far as matters of freedom of media freedom and balanced news coverage are concerned.

“Doing so, as is the case in the current Joy radio saga, is nothing but highest degree of hypocrisy. Otherwise the recent hypocritical statement presented by Wakuda Kamanga, from the President, remains an insult to the intellect of many patriotic Malawians especially those in the Human Rights and Media arena who are groaning for a transformed Malawi Broadcasting Corporation especially in readiness of the forthcoming 2014 Tripartite Elections,” conclude CHRR and CEDEP.

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