The country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima has dared President Peter Mutharika to demonstrate leadership in the fight against the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic bringing on board all stakeholders to be part of an inclusive national response.
In a 10-paged address titled Remarks by the Right Honourable State Vice- President of the Republic of Malawi on the National Situation and Response to Covid-19, he said to win the fight against the pandemic it is important that the response should be owned by the nation.
When contacted for an instant reaction to the address last night, Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Mark Botomani, who is the official government spokesperson, last night said he was studying Chilima’s statement and that government would come up with a comprehensive response on the issues raised.
In the address initially billed to be broadcast live from his private residence in Area 43 in Lilongwe by private broadcasters Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) and Times Media but faced technical glitches, Chilima said: “It must be all embracing and must be inclusive. President Mutharika should, for once, demonstrate leadership by inviting opposition party leaders, civil society organisations, religious organisations, captains of industry and even celebrities
to be part of the national response.
“In that way, a clear message will be sent to every Malawian out there that we are in this together and that whatever steps and measures we will be taking, will be driven for the common good.”
He said the Covid-19 pandemic should not be used as an opportunity to gain political mileage.
“The stakes are way too high for us to be grandstanding and seeking to gain political advantage out of this. Let us together own the solution to this crisis in the spirit of umunthu [humanity],” said Chilima.
The Vice-President, who fell out with the President and quit the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in June 2018 to form UTM Party and challenged his political mentor in the disputed May 21 2019 presidential election, also faulted some Cabinet ministers for allegedly holding campaign rallies ahead of the July 2 fresh presidential election with hundreds of people in contravention of social distancing measures championed by Ministry of Health as a Covid-19 precautionary measure.
In apparent reference to an incident in Balaka yesterday as reported on Page 3 of this edition, the Vice-President said it was hypocritical that people were being chased out of churches and mosques, but asked to attend campaign rallies addressed by Cabinet ministers. incident in Balaka yesterday
Said Chilima: “How can people trust the government then?”
He also faulted the lack of public trust in the government communication system, saying it could worsen the situation as it would lead to people lowering their guard and ignoring the basic instructions for preventing the contraction
of the virus.
On the lockdown, which was put on hold by a court order obtained by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, the Vice-President said as a precautionary measure, there was need for reflection on issues such as the scientific goal and trigger for such action, scientific parameters to be monitored and if the population has what it takes.
He said health experts have said that lockdowns in themselves, without more, may not be more helpful to contain the virus.
Chilima also observed that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed “the shameful condition of the country’s healthcare infrastructure”, saying hospitals are in dilapidated state. But he expressed optimism that the crisis will offer Malawians an opportunity to invest in improving the healthcare system to be prepared to handle crises of this nature.
In the address, he also applauded healthcare workers for the sacrifices they are making to serve the country, describing the caderes as “the nation’s finest”.
Chilima also appealed to Malawians to get information on the pandemic from credible sources to avoid spreading fake news and cause unnecessary alarm and panic.
The Vice-President’s appeal for inclusive response to the Covid-19 pandemic comes barely 10 days after 30 civil society organisations (CSOs) in the health sector petitioned Minister of Health Jappie Mhango, who chairs the Special Cabinet Committee on Coronavirus, highlighting some of the gaps and areas requiring attention to fight the virus.
The CSOs, among others, proposed a National Covid-19 Response Committee comprising various stakeholders, including the Executive, Judiciary, Parliament, CSOs, traditional leaders, the clergy and political parties.