NGO’s hit back at ‘reckless’ First Lady

By Green Muheya, Nyasa Times

Civil society organisations in Malawi have attacked First Lady Callista Mutharika following her Tuesday comments that NGOs should “go to hell” for promoting homosexuality and disturbing peace in the country.

The eight organisations – Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), T Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU),   Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Archdiocese of Lilongwe (CCJP), Church and Society-Livingstonia Synod, Church and Society- Nkhoma Synod, Civic and Political Space Platform, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) and Institute of Policy Interaction   (IPI)  – said in a statement  that they are disappointed with the First lady remarks made in Mzimba when she accused civil society organisations of seeking donor aid with which to disturb the country’s peace through their support for homosexuality and organising demonstrations on July 20 2011.

Callista also claimed people in the rural areas do not need fuel and forex because they do not have vehicles and do not engage in cross-border trade.

First Lady: Drawa civil society fire

The NGOs said they found Mrs Mutharika’s sentiments to be “reckless and unacceptable.”

“ We would like to remind Mrs. Mutharika that the NGO’s who organized the July 20 demonstrations sent the State President, who is her husband, a petition which bore the concerns of voiceless Malawians who are disillusioned with this regime. What Malawians are eagerly waiting to hear therefore are substantive responses from the government on the issues which the NGOs raised in the petition, and not some cheap hate rhetoric from the first lady,” reads the statement.

The Civil society organisation said they not ready to engage in confrontation with the first lady and even her husband.

“If anything, what we are waiting for is to hear how the President intends to address the issues which we highlighted in the petition we sent him.”

The NGO pointed that “it is a gross insult to the intelligence of Malawians in rural areas for Madam Mutharika to insinuate that in the rural areas people are not affected by the twin shortages of fuel and forex because they do not have vehicles and do not engage in cross-border trade.

“That is just mere propaganda, if not sheer evidence that the Mutharika’s have lost grip of reality. Most Malawians in the rural areas rely on maize mills which operate using diesel. There is also no need to remind Callista Mutharika that most Malawians use paraffin for domestic purposes.”

The NGOs said the First Lady would not have uttered  her reckless sentiments on fuel shortage if she had recalled that the poor farmers in the rural areas depend on transport to ferry their produce to markets in urban centres and that scarcity of fuel therefore makes their lives harder in that respect.

“It would also have done her good if she had recalled that scarcity of fuel bids up the pump price of fuel and these increases in price are passed on to the poor consumer in the village through higher prices of basic commodities, not to mention the fact that accompanying the persistent fuel shortages is a thriving black market for fuel where the prices are even higher than at the pump,” according to the statement.

The statement further said  it should not have escaped the attention of Mrs Mutharika that people in the rural areas also benefit from cross-border trade, even when they do not directly engage in that cross-border trade.

“Not all the commodities which rural Malawians use are manufactured here: some, if not most of them are imported from abroad. Even for the products that are made locally, most of the raw materials are imported from elsewhere.

“The much touted subsidized fertilizer is not manufactured here and for the government to ensure that there is adequate fertilizer for the subsidy program, it needs to have adequate forex reserves. And where do we find the beneficiaries of the subsidized fertilizer if not in rural areas?”

It adds: “It is a further affront to the dignity of poor rural Malawians to tell them that all they need is ‘subsidized fertilizer to have more maize, and that is all’. It betrays a dangerous sense of complacency and a blatant disregard of the fundamental human rights and governance concerns which the civil society raised on behalf of voiceless Malawians.”

NGOs reminded that Malawians, including those in the rural areas did not fight the dictatorship of Dr. Kamuzu Banda because of lack of food.

“Malawians wanted to enjoy the fundamental human rights which the current regime is also robbing from us. It is outrageous to assume that those people who shed blood for this country’s democracy were just hungry people who wanted nothing but food. Malawians fought long and hard against the tyranny of Dr. Banda because they wanted freedom.

“Today, Malawians are even more enlightened and will not allow some First lady insult and to fool them into believing that once they have food on the table, then they can afford to look on passively as the political elite are dubiously amassing obscene wealth, as they are bulldozing repressive bills in Parliament to stifle fundamental human rights and to protect narrow political objectives, as they pour contempt on governance institutions such as the judiciary as well as the civil society, or commit other violations of our democratic principles with impunity”

The NGOs said  the contemporary Malawian is better informed about his choices and has a better control of his destiny in this political dispensation and will not allow one President Mutharika, his wife and his “coterie of bootlickers” to take this country back to the dark days of tyranny in exchange for a bag of subsidized fertilizer.

“We also want to remind the First Lady that forex is not a luxury as she alluded to in her speech. As First Lady she must be aware that Malawi is an importing country hence most of the products are imported and relies on forex including hospital drugs and fertilizer ,” said the statement/

They organisations reminded Mrs Mutharika that she is not a spokesperson for the government.

“The position of First Lady does not even appear in our Constitution. We urge the First Lady to humble herself and concentrate on her safe motherhood projects and other charity works, for which she is also being paid illegally using taxpayers’ resources.

“As a wife to the President, she is better placed to advise the President on some matters of national interest, but given her public sentiments it is very unlikely that Madam Callista Mutharika offers constructive advice to the President on the affairs of this country. If anything, her remarks only give substance to the common observation that things have been getting from bad to worse after the President exchanged matrimonial vows with Madam Callista Mutharika.,” concluded the statement.

But State House maintained that the First Lady was entitled to comment on matters she was referring to.

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