Suspicions and doubts cloud the work of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malawi as some people question their commitment to the goals they proclaim, a Nation on Sunday survey has revealed.
While not conclusive, the survey provides a window of opportunity for CSOs to examine their role in a society that is wondering why they have gone quiet since the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012.
In the survey, conducted in 17 districts, 561 out of 1 006 respondents who took part in the poll said they are not satisfied with the work of CSOs. The major reason cited for the dim view is that CSOs are primarily motivated by money, not service to the people.
In addition to face-to-face interviews, the survey was also conducted through our short service message service (SMS).
But Reverend Maurice Munthali, publicity secretary of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), on Saturday said nobody can take away the positive contributions CSOs have made in Malawi.
“Nobody would quash or deny what the civil society have done in Malawi. They have done well in terms of providing checks and balances and governance,” said Munthali.
He conceded that several weaknesses have rocked the civil society in the country.
“Firstly, we have not spoken with one voice in terms of advocacy. Each organisation has attempted to go for it alone. The other thing is that there is poverty in Malawi and some civil society leaders have tended to be corrupt up to the point of endorsing bad laws just to pocket something and all along lying that they are speaking for Malawians.
“We also lack vision; we have not planned as civil society. We don’t have a clear statement on where we want our Malawi to be and we have not provided alternative solutions…we have sometimes been quick to blame and not offer solutions.
“That is why each government that comes doesn’t take us seriously. We just shout out issues,” said Munthali.
He also said lack of democracy within CSOs reflects badly on civil society. Munthali pointed at cases where organisations are headed by one person forever and tend to be “owner-dependent”.
Chris Chisoni, national secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), said it is impossible to define the term ‘civil society’ and, therefore, rating it is equally impossible.
Chisoni said there are many organisations that operate outside the media limelight which provide services that are making a difference in people’s lives.
He said people tend to base their assessment on a few CSOs that are visible in the media.
“Of course, there are practices that might put some civil society organisations into question. For example, some CSO leaders have been taken aboard into the government structure and you know in Malawi when you get into government, you tend to become a bootlicker,” said Chisoni.
Governance and development specialist Dr Henry Chingaipe said people need to know the difference between civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Banja La Mtsogolo that are providing critical services to Malawians.
Referring to CSO leaders who were embedded into the Joyce Banda administration, Chingaipe said going into government positions strips one of the status of civil society because one cannot be a watchdog when they are part of the system they should watch over.
He also faulted CSOs for behaving like MPs by claiming to speak for people they have not consulted. Chingaipe said this gives government the ammunition to discredit CSOs