Hell broke loose in Chitipa and Mzuzu on Friday, when irate community members and businesspersons took to the streets, forcing closure of Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) offices over alleged abuse of office.
While the situation was worse in Chitipa, where tear gas was fired to disperse the crowd, as community members pelted MRA offices with stones, burnt tyres and ransacked shops such as Chipiku, the security was tight in Mzuzu.
On Monday, communities in Chitipa petitioned the MRA, through the district commissioner’s office, demanding construction of the Chitipa-Mbilima Road, as well as houses for MRA workers at Mbilima Border Post. They demanded response within seven days.
The communities argued that government was robbing them, as it continued to collect taxes from people using the said road, but was not paying attention to its dilapidated state, which was a danger to business persons, especially during the rainy season.
“We feel it is hypocrisy of the highest order and day light robbery that you collect revenue from us at the said border and yet the network connecting Chitipa central business district and the post is in bad shape.
“We also want you to construct offices for your officers at the border post [not tents where you are currently operating from]. What do you do with all the revenue that you are failing to build even your office?” reads the petition, in part.
Roads Authority (RA) chief executive officer Engineer Emmanuel Matapa responded in a memo we have seen, telling the communities that feasibility study on the road was already done, and that by June 2020, detailed engineering designs will be ready for possible upgrading of the road to bitumen standard.
He writes: “In the interim, the Authority has engaged another contractor to improve the alternative route within the same area— from Kasisi to Ilomba border—which is in a better condition than the current road.”
As people gathered at MRA offices Friday morning, to get the said letter from Engineer Matapa, some started throwing stones at the offices, prompting police to fire tear gas.
The situation turned ugly as some people went on to burn tyres, while others used the protests to break into Farmers World, Kulima Gold and Chipiku stores, where they took away goods. It took the intervention of Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers to quell the situation as police were seemingly failing to deal with it.
Chitipa Police spokesperson Gladwell Simwaka said they have made arrests and were monitoring the situation and guarding some specific places. He also said they expected to make more arrests.
In Mzuzu, a vehicle went around, telling shop owners to close and join colleagues who wanted to force closure of MRA offices.
For Mzuzu, they had petitioned MRA last year, alleging that the revenue collecting body perpetrated injustice through harassment, corruption and introduction of taxes that they said were aimed at milking the already struggling indigenous business owners at all levels. MRA officials declined to comment on the matter.