Having listened to the Press Conference President Prof. Peter Mutharika held on Tuesday, 14th December, 2015, at State House, to brief the nation on what transpired during his recent official trips abroad, we at Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep), found it imperative to issue a reaction to some of the statements the President made. Specifically, we wish to react to the President’s remarks on Access to Information (ATI) and issuing of deadlines.
In the first place, it is important to note that the President emphatically said that his government will not pass the Access to Information (ATI) Bill to please donors but “for people to know what is happening in a democracy”.
The issue of ATI should not be misconstrued as a donor cause considering the fact that we all know that it has been with us all these years, and it is Mutharika and his team who have repeatedly assured Malawians that the Bill would be tabled in the last sitting of parliament. It is just recently when development partners have openly registered their interest to support the cause of the masses by simply reminding Mutharika to honour his pledge.
However, we strongly feel that donors and development partners have every right to reminhttp://www.nyasatimes.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpd government on the enactment of the Access to Information Bill. This is premised on the fact that Access to Information is a right which is well enshrined not only in the Constitution of Malawi, but other international human rights instruments such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, African Charter on People and Human Rights, among others, which Malawi ratified.
It is equally significant that President was able to highlight some of the “inconsistencies” in the Bill during the press conference. We, at CHRR and Cedep, however, wonder where the ‘inconsistencies’ the President highlighted during the press briefing came from. We have the draft Access to Information Bill and have never come across a clause which says Parliament shall not have the power to repeal the Access to Information law. The Access to Information Bill we have was informed by progressive model laws on access to information.
To that end, we challenge government to publish all the said “inconsistencies” for the public to appreciate them. Government should also publicise the ATI Bill, once all the so-called ‘ironing out’ and ‘aligning’ of the bill with other laws is done, before tabling it in Parliament. This would enable citizens and other stakeholders to check if there are any adulterations in the Bill. Otherwise, we are bound to believe that the President is simply buying cheap public sympathy to justify the delay in enacting the bill.
Given the culture of secrecy on how government is run, compounded a recent background of plunder of resources, Malawians can simply ill afford to have an adulterated piece of legislation that will fall short filling its democratic space. Malawians need a law that will add value to democracy.
Further, we, at CHRR and Cedep find it undemocratic for the President to take issues with ultimatums issued to him by the citizens. Statements like “anybody putting a deadline on Peter Mutharika, I will not pay attention to that” have no room in a democracy.
As an employee of the electorate, the President must be accommodative enough, fully cognizant that it is within the citizens rights to issue deadlines to their demands especially on matters that require urgent address by his leadership. Otherwise, we find the President’s aversion to deadlines as tantamount to dictatorship.
We see this as Mutharika’s calculated strategy to stifle the civic space by instilling fear in the citizens, and also impinging on the freedom of expression. This is retrogressive to democracy.
The President may wish to know that his cold attitude to ultimatums did not help matters during the NAC-gate and MSB sale saga. To date, the citizens are still in the dark on the President’s response to issues surrounding cash-stripping of NAC and MSB. Malawians are still wondering as what government will do with the proceeds of the MSB sale.
Certainly, the aforementioned issues are some of the factors that form a strong basis for the calls for enactment of Access to Information Bill. And the citizens have every right to issue a deadline on the same. In the same vein, we, at CHRR and Cedep condemn in strongest terms statements like “this nonsense must stop” by the President.
We expect the Mutharika to be presidential and fatherly in his speeches by speaking with decorum rather in demeaning tone at citizens. Does the President imply that citizens are wrong to ask for accountability from him?
Malawi is a democratic state and we don’t expect the country’s leadership to live in fear of its citizens by hiding necessary information.
Timothy Mtambo Gift Trapence
Executive Director -CHRR Executive Director -CEDEP
Released on Wednesday 16th December 2015 in LilongweFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :