Divisions have deepened in Malawian NGO community, with Congoma board chair Voice Mhone clashing with members who were incorporated into government, saying they should leave their NGO positions.
But some leaders of civil society organisations (CSOs) serving in government have hit back at Mhone, arguing that he was speaking out of ignorance.
“Those leaders incorporated into government should observe the NGO Act by relieving their duties from the NGO community. The challenge comes in whereby the leader is rightfully and legally working with an NGO, but appointed to government agencies and the leader silently chooses to [pursue] government’s agenda and not that of people.
“The Act is not clear and this is the bit that should be looked at,” said Mhone.
Mhone was asked to explain the role of Congoma in monitoring the operations and conduct of NGOs in the wake of the divisions that arose during the January 17 demonstrations.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) had faulted Congoma for the divisions among CSOs and urged the NGO mother body to enhance its coordinating and networking roles.
Some of the CSO leaders incorporated into government are executive director of Malawi Health Equity Network Martha Mwataine, who is Macra board chair, Benedicto Kondowe, who is a member of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, and Dorothy Ngoma, who was executive director of the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi but is now national coordinator for the Presidential Initiative on Safe Motherhood.
Reverend MacDonald Sembereka has also moved to State House where he is presidential adviser on NGOs.
But Kondowe disagreed with Mhone, arguing that the NGO Act does not stop CSO members from joining government.
“It is also important that leaders comment on matters that they are technically sound on to avoid confusing Malawians or indeed to discredit their own competences. This is exemplified by CSOs’ continued vigilance in providing guidance to government in different sectors of development where things have gone wrong,” said Kondowe.
On her part, Kwataine said there is nothing wrong for CSO leaders to join government.
“In this age and era of participatory decision making, it is not abnormal to see civil society leaders sitting on boards. In fact, it does government good to have objective civil society leaders sit in these boards because we are very strong on oversight functions since that is our day-to-day work,” she said.
Chairperson of the Human Rights Consultative Committee Undule Mwakasungula backed CSO leaders in government, saying they may have ambitions to go further than NGO life.
“If they join government and defend the cause of our nation, then I have no problem with that,” said Mwakasungula.
But CCJP national secretary Chris Chisoni said the perception given by CSO leaders working with government now is that they were “bought” and silenced from being critical as they used to be in the past.
“Some have gone too silent. That begs a lot of questions. A day could not pass without their critical comment in the media. The situation in the country has not changed; what has changed is the leadership. So, to conclude that they are bought cannot be far-fetched,” he said.