Members of the Malawi Police Service (MPS) should not allow themselves to be used to promote undemocratic tendencies in the country. Admitted, the MPS falls under the Executive headed by a Cabinet minister, but we expect our reformed police officers to be professional and not to be abused to promote activities that will continue to give the MPS a bad name.
The incident at Chileka Airport in Blantyre on Wednesday this week where some overzealous police officers gagged the media by, among other things, confiscating a camera from Nation Publications photojournalist James Chimpweya give a bad name not only to the police but also to the Executive branch of government. And it stinks.
Chimpweya was on duty at the airport where, among other things, he wanted to take photographs of the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda and interview him for a story on his German trip. Chaponda was arriving in the country from Berlin, Germany, where he attended the 9th Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Conference against a High Court order restraining him from conducting his official duties as Cabinet minister following his alleged involvement in the controversial maize imports from Zambia.
This was an opportune time for Chaponda to talk to the press and defend himself against allegations that he defied a court order. The Police should not have allowed themselves to get involved in this issue.
They had no business detaining Chimpweya and confiscating his camera. The argument that it is illegal to take pictures at the airport, let alone to take pictures of Chaponda do not hold water. How many times have people from all walks of life taken pictures at the airport of politicians and non-politicians alike whether arriving or departing the country in full view of MPS officers? Did it become illegal because it involved Chaponda who had defied a court order?
Assuming it is indeed illegal to take pictures at the airport, why should the police use the law selectively? And after confiscating the camera from the NPL journalist, why did the police restrain Chimpweya from talking to Chaponda? What was illegal about that?
These are the excesses which the otherwise reformed police ought to avoid getting involved in. It is wrong, very wrong, for members of the MPS to be complicit in activities that promote impunity and lawlessness. Chaponda is not supposed to perform duties as a cabinet minister until the matter is heard on January 31 2017. As law enforcers, our Police should actually have been in the forefront helping the media to do its job of making all citizens comply with the law. What the police are doing is a threat to democracy and which we need for the development of this country.
No one is above the law. And it is sad that the very government institutions entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing the law in the country are actually in the forefront of putting spokes in the wheel. This impunity must stop.
The impression one gets from all this is that Chaponda has the backing of his bosses in breaking the law which is very unfortunate. It is sad that the Executive branch of government has more powers over the others—the Judiciary and the Legislature. The reason we have three branches of government is to ensure that they provide checks and balances on one another to avoid the kind of abuse that the police are not aiding.
The consequence of one branch of government wielding more power than others is that the capacity of the others to perform their duties such as observance of rule of law and fighting corruption are hampered. And when we voted for multiparty we were making the statement that we want to change this. We wanted an end to abuse of power by authorities. We wanted to empower citizens with rights which cannot be easily taken-away. We wanted everyone to be treated equally without discrimination—because no one is above the law. We wanted adherence of principles of natural justice like and fairness.
The Executive should stop abusing the Police. Let Chaponda wash his own dirt. n