Our reporter Boniface Phiri engaged Mavuto Bamusi—presidential advisor of civil society and NGOs—on matters surrounding the recent counter-demonstrations and the sour relationship between government and CSOs. Excerpts:
Do you think it was prudent for government, through your office, to fund and support a demonstration to counter another organised by some civil society organisations (CSOs) taking place simultaneously?
Government did not financially support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) caravan conducted by some sections of the civil society. You can even check with the Treasury if there was any monetary transaction for the purpose of financing the caravan. But I believe this is the work of the same CSOs whose demonstration did not attract as many people. My office exists to provide policy guidance. The CSOs which organised the caravan were doing policy advocacy, but they cannot do that on their own; they have to be in touch with relevant government offices which includes my office.
But the SDGs organisers confessed to the media that they received financial support from your office. Who should people believe now?
As I said, the kind of support we gave was policy support and this is normally provided in circumstances where CSOs are conducting policy advocacy because policy is the realm of government. I think the word “support” from my office was confused or misconstrued to mean financial support, which is not entirely true. I must also add that we provide support to any well-meaning CSOs. Were Billy Mayaya, Gift Trapence or Timothy Mtambo come to my office seeking support, we would provide it so long as their cause is development oriented. As a matter of fact, we have provided support to Mtambo’s CHRR on a campaign to promote awareness on the Rome Statutes. This is a matter to do with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and we contributed to their development of the concept on Malawi’s position on the same.
The dates for the two demonstrations collided; why couldn’t you, in your capacity, advise the SDGs caravan organisers to shift theirs to a different date?
In terms of notices for holding street marches, it is not the role of my office. Mine is to ensure that everyone’s right to demonstrate is not infringed upon. In terms of order and arrangements, that’s the duty of the district commissioner’s office. Suffice to say, Mayaya didn’t inform my office of his demonstrations and we only learnt about it through the media, while the SDGs caravan organisers wrote their letter on October 14 to alert us. But they should have alerted us because government is already addressing some of the issues they raised in their petition such as Cashgate and reforms aimed at improving the health delivery services. However, there are certain bottlenecks which do not need the president alone since they are matters of collective responsibility. In the same vein, let me reveal here that we usually face challenges in meeting the CSOs face to face because these activists often rebuff us as they give one excuse after another.
Don’t you think activists are justified in calling for President Peter Mutharika’s resignation for appearing not to be providing answers and solutions to problems facing the country?
These calls are totally unjustified and the basis is feeble. For Mtambo, Mayaya and Trapence to give us a 30-day ultimatum to solve all challenges facing this country is unrealistic. To say that the president should resign if he fails to solve all problems is out of this world and incomprehensible. Why can’t they be part of the solution to the challenges? The president cannot individually solve the problems alone because most of these problems require collective responsibility and I must ask CSOs not to assume responsibilities of opposition parties. Why are they not condemning the K300 million extravagance at Parliament?
So you think they should be vocal on issues emerging from Parliament as well?
We see a sense of hypocrisy especially in the vocal and noisy CSOs led by Mayaya, Mtambo and Trapence because since the scandal of new vehicles at Parliament came out; they should have been on the streets parading against the misconduct. Let them not be partisan; when the president does something they are too quick to get to the streets, yet they remain quiet on issues are to do with Lazarus Chakwera or the Speaker. We also saw a similar kind of behaviour during the reign of Joyce Banda. They did not agitate for accountability and transparency from her government. This shows that the activists we are talking about here are inclined towards opposition parties.
Wouldn’t you say that shows that the DPP administration has a bad relationship with CSOs?
No, I wouldn’t agree with that assertion. Remember immediately when the President came to power he held talks with members of Congoma and attended the NGO Week where he interacted with hundreds of CSOs. A couple of weeks later, he held several meetings with other CSOs including the Public Affairs Committee (PAC). So this is cheap propaganda we have been hearing for months. n