As the clock is ticking to next year’s elections, Malawi’s leading human rights organisation Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has given President Mutharika a no-confidence grade, saying his government has failed to live up to its promises in the just-ended year, citing poor governance and increased corruption levels.
In a press statement issued yesterday titled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Review of Human Rights and Governance in 2017, CHRR said it had noted that in 2017, Malawi continued to be corrupt under Mutharika’s leadership contrary to the promise he made when he assumed power in May 2014 that he would root out corruption.
“Corruption is a serious human rights violation as it acts as a barrier to poverty reduction diverting much-needed resources away from healthcare, schools and water provision,” the statement reads.
The organisation said the DPP-led administration’s zero tolerance rhetoric was once again proved empty in 2017 by numerous instances of corruption in government, involving senior government officials and even ministers.
“Contrary to the promise he made when he assumed power in May 2014, Malawi continues to be significantly more corrupt under the leadership of President Mutharika, a fact acknowledged by the country’s development partners, who have urged government to step up efforts to fight against ‘corrupt gangsters’ in the corridors of power,” CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo said in the statement.
The watchdog described the dubious awarding of 78 megawatts (MW) stand-by electricity generators contract allegedly to a company with links to senior ruling party members as one of the failures of the Mutharika administration in the past year.
“The President has demonstrated failure to act against the allegations of serious misconduct involving senior officials in his own government and Escom, which has portrayed the President as sleeping on the job, unconcerned about the millions of dollars being siphoned by his own party officials,” reads the statement.
CHRR has described the power outages as a threat to people’s right to life as well as other social and economic rights protected in the Constitution.
In the statement, CHRR also touched on the maizegate scandal and appealed for speedy prosecution of former Minister of Agriculture George Chaponda and those involved in the maize purchase scandal and for an investigation into what caused the fire at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development office at the Capital Hill.
Another bad indicator of human rights abuses, according to CHRR, was the reported donation of about K13.5 million by several parastatal organisations to a fundraising initiative of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in July, 2017 describing the act as a contravention of the doctrine of public trust as enshrined in sections 12 and 178 of the Constitution.
In its statement, CHRR expressed concerns on the growing politicization of the governance institutions in the country inlcuding the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB)m NGO Board, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) and National Intelligence Bureau.
“ It is now an open secret that these governance institutions have become a governance curse, due to government’s inordinate interference in their operations. This is a huge disservice to tax-payers who fund these institutions. It is a shame that heads of these institutions are at times behaving like ruling party spokespersons when in actual sense there are supposed to be accountable to Malawians,” CHRR statement said.
CHRR calls upon the DPP-led government to “unshackle” these governance institutions by providing all the necessary resource support as well as guarantee their operational independence.
“Principally, we urge government and all parliamentarians to amend the laws on these institutions by removing the President as the appointing authority of the heads of some of these institutions. This will improve accountability and bring an end to impunity,” it said.
CHRR also accused the Mutharika administration of practicing nepotism.
“Another unfortunate development that needs to be highlighted is failure by the government to stop practicing nepotism, especially with regards to public appointments,” it said.
The organisation noted that there have been a continued public outcry on practice of giving an unfair advantage to people from one tribe – the Lhomwe.
It said most key positions were given to people from the tribe of the President. A consistent observation has been made by CSOs, politicians and the academic that most of key positions in government including the parastatals are given to the president’s tribe.
“CHRR categorically condemns this despicable practice, as it is undermines the issue of meritocracy, and calls on the President to give a fair chance to all tribes when making public appointments. Malawi belongs to us all, and not to a single tribe,” the watchdog said.
The organisation also noted with concerns the threats against human rights defenders who were critical of the DPP-led administration.
“A number of human rights defenders, such as Charles Kajoloweka [Nyasa Times ‘Person of the year 2017], Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence, Billy Mayaya, among many others, have been receiving threats from unknown people linked to the ruling party as per their claims,” it said.
But CHRR has also seen some good governance and entrenchment of human rights in 2017 among them the invalidation of the law on rogue and vagabond, the constitutional amendment on the marriage age to 18 and implementation of the national registration exercise.
While commending the government for reducing the inflation rate, Mtambo said this should translate to improved living standards for ordinary Malawians which has not happened
Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi insisted that Malawi was succeeding in entrenching good governance, reducing poverty and corruption.
Dausi, who is official government spokesperson, said fighting corruption was a collective effort by the public, media, government bodies and civil society.
However, the government organised a multi-stakeholder anti-corruption conference whose recommendations and resolutions indicated that delegates looked to the presidency as the office that should demonstrate that the fight against corruption was possible.
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