Following the announcement of coronavirus measures by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 to prevent the spread of the pandemic, police and city councils are failing to agree on who will fund the exercise.
The task force on co-chairperson Dr John Phuka on Friday announced new preventive measures following a surge in new cases registered in recent weeks.
But while the Ministry of Local Government and councils say they have no funds to pay the police for the exercise, the Ministry of Homeland Security says any job outside the normal operations must be paid for and councils should look for the resources.
The tough measures, announced last Friday include a ban on meetings, street markets, weddings, and restrictions on bars and other entertainment places, reduced capacity in passenger vehicles but also adherence to all Covid-19 measures in religious gatherings and funerals.
In an interview, Zomba City Council spokesperson Mercy Chaluma said a committee was scheduled to meet yesterday to look at the practicality of enforcement of the measures, saying, previous efforts were hampered by lack of resources. She said enforcement is done by police who demand payment for their services.
Said Chaluma: “The enforcing agent is the police and they expect to be paid for that exercise. We are struggling financially as a council and we have problems paying the police.”
On his part, Lilongwe City Council chief executive officer (CEO) John Chome said they have referred the matter to the Ministry of Local Government for guidance.
He said: “I think the issue of allowances is one that concerns all councils. At the moment, we have referred the matter to the Ministry of Local Government so that they can take it up with the command centre to guide how we move forward.”
But Chome said the council has started implementing the measures. He urged owners and operators of concerned businesses to adhere to the guidelines and restrictions until it is safe to operate normally.
Mzuzu City Council CEO Gomezgani Nyasulu suggested that the problem may have emanated from lack of proper engagement with the enforcement agencies.
He said: “It’s a common problem. As councils we are there to coordinate activities, and implementation is expected to be done by relevant sectors, such as security agencies.”
The council’s spokesperson McDonald Gondwe said they will be conducting inspections to ensure that illegal vending is dealt with and that bars and other entertainment places adhere to the rules.
Blantyre City Council CEO Alfred Chanza said they were ready to enforce the measures as it is a policy directive, and hinted that they will do so despite an injuction bar owners obtained to stop the council fro enforcing the measures.
He said: “On enforcement, we work with the police, and they have expressed willingness to support us. Either on Monday or Tuesday, we will have a press briefing where the mayor will echo the measures because they are a policy directive and we cannot ignore them.
“I cannot talk about what is in the court, but also be mindful that there are many issues that are not in court, so we cannot fail to implement the measures. We will wait upon the court to see how it will help us on the matter.”
Meanwhile, Secretary for Homeland Security Harry Kanjewe says police do not require additional resources to implement normal operations, except on specific issues.
He said: “Like the Ministry of Health, if they want police to help provide security at a quarantine centre, they ask us how many officers will be needed and the resources needed, and that is done.
“In this case, police do not demand resources while working on their normal operation. But if they are supposed to be on something outside their operations, then the councils will have to source some resources for the officers.”
However, his Local Government counterpart Charles Kalemba said the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) already funded police for the exercise.
But when contacted, Dodma spokesperson Chipiliro Khamula admitted that the Covid-19 response is facing financial challenges.
He said: “It is understandable that officers who would go to patrol borders, for instance, would get some stipend, but the issue here is that we are facing financial challenges.”
Phuka in a separate interview wondered why implementation should only focus on policing, when citizens can simply adhere to the measures without being pushed.
He said: “Should implementation only depend on policing? Don’t we want things to change? Wouldn’t it be a reasonable thing if we achieved disease control at minimal cost because society has made the right choice?”
Meanwhile, health rights activist Maziko Matemba has said the demands must be within the work ethics of institutions.
He said: “If one is working within normal hours, why demand allowances? Let those working outside normal hours be paid. Covid-19 may take long. Do you think government will have money to sustain payments for long?”
Cumulatively, by Sunday, Malawi had recorded 2364 cases including 38 deaths. Of these cases, 808 are imported infections and 1556 are locally transmitted.
Malawi declared Covid-19 a national disaster on March 20 2020 before the country registered its first three cases on April 2.