Vocal Malawi leading non-governmental human rights organization Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has challenged Malawi President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika to take charge and walk the calling if he is to match rhetoric with action.
In its recently issued report titled “President Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika’s One Year in Office: The Gains and Reservations; Time to take charge and walk the calling”, the watchdog observe that while Mutharika’s one year in office may be viewed as a mixed bag there was need for the President and his government to do more in translating rhetoric into concrete action.
In a statement signed by CHRRR Executive Director Timothy Mtambo following a consultative stakeholder’s conference , it said: “The one year journey with President Mutharika have had some gains the most notable being the right to demonstration and freedom of assembly. Citizens exercised their right to assemble and demonstrate without any physical hindrance during the period citing the example of the anti-NACGATE, MSB sale and Xenophobia demonstrations are a few examples.”
However, he observed, that there were still some grey areas that posed a threat to the full enjoyment of these rights saying for example, the government used the state-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) against the organizers of those demonstrations with the notable one being the anti-NACGATE 13th January demonstrations.
The stakeholders conference observed that the revision of the Communications Act to free the Public broadcaster MBC as also a step in the right direction.
“Contrary to its 2014 manifesto and Mutharika’s inaugural speech, MBC remain skewed towards the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and is often used as a tool to unleash attacks on its critics with CSO leaders and opposition amongst the main casualties. The slow progress on the review of Communications Act coupled by lack of a clear time frame when Malawians should expect the finality of the process is discouraging,” said Mtambo.
Mtambo also observed that the passage of some gender related laws good news but the recent adoption of Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations legislation and Trafficking in Persons legislation are positives worth noting.
“However, we are concerned that the Marriage Act contains some provisions that are inconsistent with Malawi’s obligations under International Human Rights law, including the provision that defines marriage,” he said.
The stakeholder meeting observed that the prosecution of Cashgate cases has seen some notable progress in the court’s hearing and prosecution of Cashgate cases with notable convictions on the same.
“However, government needs to do more in expediting the slow pace of Cashgate cases. At the same time there is need for government’s total commitment to the allegedly K92 billion cashgate saga. There are public concerns that government has so far not demonstrated political will in ensuring that the alleged 92 billion Cashgate is dealt with once and for all,” observed Mtambo in the statement.
The conference also noted that the public sector reforms must be supported to ensure that the good paper work is translated into real action adding that there is need for harmonization of the various pieces of legislation to avoid the reforms being challenged in the court of law and that government should also clearly define the cost of the public sector reforms.
“The government rolled out the Cement and Malata [iron sheets] subsidy as one way of fulfilling the right to decent housing. However, there is need to avoid politicization of the program. It is important that Malawians now started thinking of ways and strategies on how to make the current and future Presidential initiatives sustainable,” noted Mtambo in the statement.
Delegates to the conference observed that the launching of Community College initiatives [with 11 community colleges so far opened] and the opening of Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) are both positive developments.
“However, there is a need to adequately resource new and existing universities, and attempts to avoid underfunding public universities, particularly UNIMA, which continues to be underfunded in the process affecting its operations including research work,” the conference noted.
Delegates noted that it is encouraging that President Mutharika kept his word on the 20-member cabinet and that Mutharika has maintained the modest travel itinerary both locally and internationally, a move which has spared the country’s resources. It is important to legislate cabinet size to ensure sustainability of this initiative, and such proposed legislation should also consider gender equity to ensure adequate women’s representation in cabinet.
Mtambo in the statement observed that the one year of President Mutharika has been characterized by vestiges of intolerance to dissenting views with critics of the regime subjected to verbal attacks by either Mutharika himself or the governing party’s leadership.
“CSOs, academics, and media practitioners have been labeled “unpatriotic,” accused of tarnishing the image of the current leadership, challenged on concentrating on “trivia” instead of research, and said to be writing “rubbish” and practicing “mercenary” journalism. All this coupled by the government’s attempts to stifle civil society using the NGO law are worrisome developments” observed Mtambo.
Mtambo also noted that the one year in office of President Mutharika has to a larger extent been characterized by his failure to provide leadership on critical issues of national concern.
“The president has often been accused of being silent on critical issues requiring his decisive leadership, including those relating to NACGATE, MSB, judicial strike and others. In the midst of such silence, there have often been inconsistent messages coming from his government, and in some cases cabinet ministers contradicting his position,” said Mtambo.
Delegates noted that Malawi’s submission of the Universal Periodic Review national report and its appearance at the second cycle review in Geneva; Malawi’s maiden appearance at the 56th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights for the review of its initial report in Banjul; and Malawi’s appearance before the UN Human Rights Committee at its 111th session in Gambia last year on its ICCPR periodic report demonstrates Malawi’s commitment to fulfilling its international reporting obligations.
“However, government needs to take a step further by implementing the recommendations made in the UPR and ICCPR processes, and also reconsidering its position on the “noted” [or rejected] recommendations,” it was observed.
It was also observed that Mutharika’s administration can do better if can bring to Parliament the Access to Information Bill, improve on the poor service delivery,improve on access to justice and effective legal remedial measures, the state of the economy, inflation and availability of forex
The report, according to CHRR’s Advocacy Coordinator Makhumbo R. Munthali, was informed by the reflections of the 20 invited delegates– CSOs, academicians, politicians and media practitioners -who attended an inclusive stakeholders workshop organised by CHRR with support from Freedom House – a US Based international human rights organisation with offices worldwide to take stock of President Mutharika’s performance in the promotion of human rights and good governance.
“The statement is owned by CHRR but benefitted entirely from discussions at an inclusive stakeholders workshop organized by CHRR and Freedom House to take stock of Mutharika’s one year in office from a human rights and governance perspective. As such, it’s a reflection of what transpired at this important meeting.,” Munthali said.
.It has been a tradition for CHRR with other likeminded CSOs to issue and publish periodic assessments of the government starting with 100 days assessments with the notable examples being: stocktaking President Joyce Banda’s 100 days in Office, Reflecting on Joyce Banda’s 20 months in office: A missed opportunity to reclaim public trust’ and Mutharika’s 100 days in office: ‘A road of hope and apprehension to the future.’
However, this year’s event was unique in the sense that it provided an opportunity forvarious stakeholders with different expertise to gather at one place and reflect on Mutharika’s one year in office,” said Munthali in emailed questionnaire response to Nyasa Times
Despite being a predominantly CSOs event, the Salima event was also graced by senior party representatives from Democratic progressive Party (DPP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Peoples Party (PP). The Special Advisor to Malawi President on NGOs and CSOs Mavuto Bamusi was also in attendance.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :