Quasi-religious grouping, Public Affairs Committee (PAC) held its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday last week where it elected new office bearers. The grouping has for the past four years being led by chairperson the Very Reverend Dr. FELIX CHINGOTA who has since passed leadership mantle to Catholic priest, Monsignor Patrick Thawale. Our reporter LLOYD CHITSULO caught up with Chingoti to share his experience during his two consecutive terms (2013-2019) he served at PAC. Excerpts;
How would you describe your tenure as PAC chairperson?
I would like to describe my tenure as Chairperson of Public Affairs Committee as one of self-fulfilling. I say this because I was privileged to lead an organisation which I indirectly contributed to its formation.
When the Malawian Catholic bishops issued their pastoral letter ‘Living Our Faith’ in March 1992 which was very critical of the Malawi Congress Party [MCP] administration, the latter convened a meeting where they discussed how to deal with the bishops. At this point it was necessary that the other religious bodies in the country should come up in support of the bishops.
The Reverend Mezuwa Banda who was a student at Chancellor College and I, decided to write a letter to the then general secretary of Blantyre Synod, the Very Reverend Professor Silas Ncozana. In that letter, we proposed the formation of a broad-based body to spearhead the support to the bishops’ cause. The heading of that letter was ‘The Nation of Malawi in Crisis: Church’s Concern’. At an opportune time this letter was used a basis for a letter that was addressed to the then Head of State, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
The opportune time came when a delegation from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches [Warc] came into the country in show of solidarity to local church leadership. The letter [dated June 2] which was sent to Kamuzu was signed by the Warc delegation and leadership from CCAP General Synod, Blantyre Synod and Synod of Livingstonia.
The heading of this letter was the same as the one Rev Banda and I wrote. Kamuzu responded on June 10 and in his response he agreed to enter into dialogue. Government appointed Presidential Committee on Dialogue and the leadership decided to form a broad-based consultative body consisting of religious leaders, lawyers and business people. This broad-based consultative committee eventually became the Public Affairs Committee.
Secondly, my tenure as chairperson at PAC has been a good one. I say this because I received support from my fellow committee members and also from the mother bodies, which are Episcopal Conference of Malawi [ECM], Evangelical Association of Malawi [EAM], Malawi Council of Churches, Muslim Association of Malawi [MAM] and Qadria Muslim Association of Malawi [QMAM]. Also staff at the PAC secretariat has been quite professional in their duties.
What have been PAC’s achievements under your leadership?
One of PAC’s achievements has been to provide constructive advice to government. Another achievement has been to provide means of conflict management. For example, after the elections of 2014 there were calls from some quarters in the country urging for a change in the political structure of the state of Malawi from its current unitary formation to federal formation. The call was motivated by strong perceptions of political and economic exclusion arising from the difficulties with the management of current electoral system, the manner in which results were announced and the subsequent dynamics that shaped the configuration of political power in the country.
In order to interrogate the issues PAC organised one national conference and three regional conferences on Inclusivity and Federalism. One major outcome of these consultations was the recommendation to government to fully implement the decentralisation process. Currently, there are mediation activities going on to find solution to current political impasse. Several All Inclusive Stakeholders’ conferences have been organised to provide safe space foe Malawian to discuss sensitive issues.
PAC has also over the past six years continued to provide checks and balances on government’s performance. For example we have been critical on the sale of Malawi Savings Bank; the sale of Presidential jet. We managed in December 2017 to force the executive arm of government to table in Parliament Electoral Reform Bills, We have been critical with government’s performance regarding the fight against corruption.
For example PAC’s Governance (Executive committee members, members of Board of trustees and Secretaries General of Mother bodies) met on 3-4 April to review government’s performance. Following this meeting on 6th April 2016, PAC issued a statement titled “Statement on Unfulfilled Promises” in which we categorically said that the DPP-led administration had miserably failed to deliver on its promises. The reality is that there is rampant corruption.
What have been some of the challenges?
There have been challenges, of course. One of the challenges has been a misunderstanding about the prophetic role of PAC. People have asked about the reasons for PAC existence saying, Why are we here? Who has granted us permission to do what we have been doing? Why are we involved in politics? Are we a political party in disguise? No, we are not a political party and we do not intent to form a political party in order to contest for political position.
We are religious leaders. It should always be remembered that PAC originated as a result of political circumstances. What do we expect then? Should we expect to pick pears from a mango tree? Impossible!
What would be your regrets when you reflect back?
Perhaps one regret that the Electoral Reform Bill did not pass in Parliament. Not only did we put the conditions for suspending the planned demonstration a bit lower, we also had too much confidence in our Members of Parliament. We expected them to mind more about the needs of Malawians rather than their own. Alas, our MPs showed that they care more about themselves than the people who voted them in.
As a religious person, I am always optimistic. Pessimism is not an option. I believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the grave and put him far above any powers on earth and above. In other words, a loving God is still in control of our country’s destiny. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. After all God knows the plans he has for us; plans for our welfare and not for harm, to give us a future with hope [Jeremiah 29: 11].