Some civil society organisations (CSOs) have accused the Tonse Alliance administration of exuding dictatorial tendencies by enacting laws that restrict citizens’ freedoms.
The sentiments follow President Lazarus Chakwera’s assenting to the controversial Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill which the CSO leaders believe violates fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly freedom of association, freedom of assembly and other related rights.
Addressing a press briefing in Lilongwe on Thursday, Youth and Society executive director Charles Kajoloweka said the move by Chakwera is a clear sign of rebirth of an authoritarian regime.
He also cited the Labour Relations Amendment Bill, which was also passed by Parliament last year, as restricting freedom of workers to hold strikes by providing for the deduction of wages for workers that stage a strike.
But government spokesperson Gospel Kazako dismissed the accusations.
“This has the potential of accusing members of Parliament of passing authoritarian laws. There is nothing authoritarian about this law,” he said.
Kazako also observed that the NGO Board, an umbrella body of all NGOs, was part of the entire process.
But Kajoloweka insisted that government disregarded advice from the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) not to assent to the NGO Bill until grey areas were ironed out.
MHRC executive secretary Habiba Osman confirmed that the commission wrote Chakwera, saying the body wanted to facilitate dialogue between the two sides.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition chairperson Gift Trapence pointed out that some former presidents also tried to gag and weaken CSOs but democracy triumphed in the end.
“We will try to engage Parliament and our legal team is also looking into the issue,” he said.
In an earlier interview, Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo said he was not aware of any court order challenging the assenting of the Bill.