Newly-formed Interfaith Forum for Peace, Justice and Dialogue chaired by Bishop Joseph Bvumbwe to mediate in the post-election stalemate has come under fire for comprising some individuals alleged to be aligned to government.
Besides Bvumbwe, who is also board chairperson for Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera), the group also comprises the Reverend Timothy Nysaulu as vice-chairperson and Anglican Diocese of Upper Shire Bishop Brighton Vita Malasa as secretary.
Political and governance commentators have described the outfit as comprising “mercenaries of government”; hence, casting doubt on their objectivity in serving the best interests of Malawians at large.
But in an interview yesterday, Bvumbwe said the group was formed to complement existing efforts by other organisations in peace and dialogue and that it will work with objectivity to serve interests of Malawians.
He said the fact that some of the members of the group sit on boards of different parastatals and were appointed by President Peter Mutharika does not mean they will be biased towards government.
Said Bvumbwe: “That should not be creating any conflict of interest at all. We still can advise objectively and support government where it needs to be supported or admonish where it is needed. You do not need to be a rival for you to be objective.”
He also said the formation of the forum does not mean they have broken away from the quasi-religious grouping Public Affairs Committee (PAC), as they have joined in their individual capacities whereas with PAC, membership is based on churches and associations affiliation.
Bvumbwe added that the post-May 21 Tripartite Elections events compelled the formation of the grouping.
But in a separate interview, politician-cum-commentator Humphrey Mvula bluntly said the formation of the group leaves a lot to be desired, especially when on the timing.
He said: “I do not know how they would be seen as representing the general interest of Malawians because the minute you are an appointee of government in whatever capacity, it means you serve the interest of that government.
“Most of those are even known surrogates of government and have never criticised government when it is wrong. They have been part of omissions and commissions of government.”
On his part, Chancellor College based political analyst Mustapha Hussein agreed with Mvula, saying the formation of the forum does not carry weight.
Commenting on the formation of the grouping, PAC executive director Robert Phiri said they welcome it bearing in mind that there is freedom of association enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
But Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) vice-chairperson Gift Trapence described it as a tactic by government to shrink civic space by forming institutions that are composed of their supporters.
However, Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani, who is also the official government spokesperson, described Trapence’s assertions as misguided, saying government does not play a hand in formation of any group. The forum also includes CCAP Blantyre Synod general secretary the Reverend Alex Maulana who is Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) board chairperson, Blantyre Synod moderator the Reverend Masauko Mbolembole who is Malawi Posts Corporation (MPC) board chairperson, Apostle Madalitso Mbewe who once chaired Central Region Water Board (CRWB), the Reverend Howard Matiya Nkhoma who chaired Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) and Bishop Charles Tsukuluza who chaired Lilongwe Water Board (LWB). Malasa was board chairperson for National Herbarium and Botanical Gardens of Malawi.