Presidential Commission of Inquiry’s independence doubted

A leading human rights activist in Malawi, Reverend MacDonald Sembereka, has expressed doubt over the level of independence of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the death of 19 people killed in cold blood during the July 20 nationwide demonstrations.

“This is long overdue. It is a welcome development if it is not going to act as a smokescreen. Nearly three months down the line the president has finally come up with a commission,” Sembereka told Nyasa Times, doubting that the Commission would bring to light what really happened without undue pressure from the president himself or “some mechanization and on the premise of how manipulative the system might be.”.

“Further, one tends to cast doubts on the tendency for the president to appoint more less the same people. Some of these characters have served in other Commissions that are up to still ‘works in progress,” said Sembereka, the acting national coordinator of the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) and whose house in Balaka was a target of petrol-bomb by regime thugs on September 10, 2011.

Re Sembereka: Smokescreen inquiry

President Bingu wa Mutharika on Thursday announced the Commission of Inquiry and named Catholic Bishop emeritus Felix Eugenio Mkhori head of the commission. According to Office of President and Cabinet, other commissioners lawyer James Naphambo, former cop Titus Thyolamwendo, Apostle Timothy Khoviwa, Levi Mihowa, Chris Yiannakis and Father Raymond Likupe.

Mutharika also promised a probe into the death of Robert Chasowa, a Polytechnic student who is suspected to have been murdered by state agents.

The human rights defender said in view of his assertion that this commission is long overdue, he said one would anticipate that the appointees will realize that they are dealing with an urgent matter in which Malawians have been waiting for a long time.

He noted that the report was anticipated almost one and half months ago to establish the extent of damage and the causalities.

“I am also worried with the insistence by the president regarding the innocence of the police. If he is convinced as demonstrated that the police were not in the wrong, why is he coming up with such a commission—to implicate who and for what? Or is it to exonerate the police? One would expect that clear Terms of Reference and time frame are set and met,” Rev. Sembereka said.

He noted that the Commission of Inquiry has come about due to the fact that the president has been under intense pressure including the fact that the international community and various actors are denying Malawi of the much needed foreign currency.

“You and I are aware of the economic drought or suffocation the country is going through and that we can’t rule out the fact that the president is pressurized. Recent statements from the international and local organizations have been calling upon an impartial broad-based commission of inquiry.”

Reverend Sembereka also observed that there are so many commissions of inquiry the president has put in place and no reports have emerged. In that regard, the reverend wondered what assurances the government would give to Malawians that this time around, the nation would be furnished with a detailed report on the July 20 and 21 deaths and damage to property.

“In my opinion, it is critical that taxpayers’ money is not just spent without deliverables. Further, we in civil society would have expected to be consulted on the need to get names that we feel also comfortable with. Malawians are not going to condone smokescreen commissions; what they want is delivery on the reasoning of their establishment,” he concluded.

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