President Peter Mutharika and some of his Cabinet ministers will not attend a dialogue meeting with leadership of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) scheduled for today ahead of Friday demonstrations, a presidential aide has said.
Presidential adviser on civil society organisations (CSOs) Mavuto Bamusi said that it is “expecting too much” to expect Mutharika and ministers to attend the meeting government initiated to open dialogue in the wake of the April 27 2018 protests and the planned September 21 demonstrations.
Bamusi and Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi said government has assembled a high-level delegation of technocrats for the dialogue process.
But HRDC deputy chairperson Gift Trapence on Tuesday threatened that his group would walk out of the meeting if their demands to have Mutharika and his ministers available as well as allowing the media to be available will not be met.
Through a letter dated September 17 2018 signed on behalf of Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara by Cliff Chiunda, Principal Secretary (Administration) in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), government invited the CSOs to a meeting on Tuesday to “offer additional accountability and greater clarification on the government response of July 2018”.
But on Tuesday, HRDC responded that the notice for the meeting was short and proposed that instead it be shifted to 1pm this Wednesday.
Reads in part the HRDC letter: “…we would like to categorically state that we are perplexed with both the timing and lack of detail on the nature and scope of the dialogue, as it coincides with our plans to hold peaceful nationwide demonstrations demanding greater transparency and accountability on the part of government.
“In the absence of the proposed terms of engagement, we would like to propose the following: Presence of the senior government representatives directly connected to our concerns namely: The Head of State, His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, the Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe…”
Bamusi and Dausi said government was prepared for the meeting on Tuesday, indicating that a 15-member high-level delegation was ready and set at the appointed time. They said the CSOs did not show up.
But Dausi said the government side has accepted the request to push the meeting to this Wednesday.
Trapence said if their demands are not met, the meeting will not be worth attending.
He said: “We wanted decision makers on the table. We have set our demands. We also set our parameters of the meeting. Given the gravity of the issues, they require high level responses from key policy and decision makers.
“Meeting officers at lower level will not yield any tangible results and Malawians will lose since the meeting will just be a talkshow. This is a vindication of our earlier concerns that the dialogue is not being called in good faith but to thwart our demonstrations of September 21.”
Among issues to be raised in the demonstrations are government’s failure to address worsening corruption in the country and theft of fuel worth K 1.9 billion at Electricity Supply Cooporation of Malawi (Escom).
The HRDC cancelled the protests from September 7 2018 to September 21 to avoid clashes with governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) youth cadets who were expected to hold what they called a Blue March in Blantyre on the same day, but eventually never did.