With three days before civil society organisations (CSOs) hold their planned anti-government nationwide protests, the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) has courted organisers to a meeting to open dialogue on outstanding issues.
But reacting to the OPC invitation for today’s meeting dated September 17 2018, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Timothy Mtambo said in an interview yesterday the activists will only attend the meeting at Capital Hill if President Peter Mutharika or relevant line ministers commit to be in the meeting.
In a letter signed on by Cliff Chiunda Principal Secretary (Administration) in the OPC, on behalf of Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara, government said the meeting, scheduled for 10am today, seeks to “offer additional accountability and greater clarification on the government response of July 2018”.
The OPC letter addressed to Mtambo came hours after Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) also held a meeting in Lilongwe with HRDC leadership, pleading with them to shift the protests, especially in Zomba City, to avoid negatively affecting voter registration set to roll out in the City tomorrow.
“This dialogue meeting will also provide an opportunity for continuous engagement on any other matters of national interest, including those that may be related to the planned 21st September 2018 demonstrations,” the statement reads in part.
Mtambo confirmed receiving the letter, but said the activists have set conditions.
He said: “If the President will not attend, then we expect line ministers to be in attendance. Issues of finance should be dealt with by the minister [of Finance], issues of energy and internal security by their respective line ministers and so on. We will not be in a meeting with junior officers.”
Mtambo added that the meeting should also be open to the media.
He said: “The issues we will be discussing are national issues and, therefore, no need for it to be a closed meeting. If these things are not met, then we will not be party to the said dialogue.”
Reacting to government’s efforts ahead of the September 21 demonstrations which the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and Vice-President Saulos Chilima have endorsed, governance commentator Emily Mkamanga described the actions of MEC and government as a sign of panic.
She wondered why it has taken government so long to call for dialogue after the CSOs’ earlier petition delivered during the April 27 demonstrations.
Said Mkamanga: “Why didn’t they just implement the things that were raised in the April 27 petition? For me, this is a government that is panicking. They have seen many groups like the United Transformation Movement endorsing the protests and the government is panicking.”
During yesterday’s meeting with MEC, the electoral body, led by its chairperson Jane Ansah, expressed reservations that protesters may leave their route and invade registration centres.
In an interview after the meeting, HRDC vice-chairperson and spokesperson Gift Trapence, who was accompanied by HRDC Central Region chairperson Billy Mayaya, said MEC wanted them to postpone the demonstrations in Zomba to a later date.
He said they told MEC that they would not shift the dates, having already changed from September 7 to 21 2018.
Meanwhile, HRDC members are expected to meet officials from Malawi Police Service and city councils after their meeting failed to take place at the eleventh hour yesterday.
In Mzuzu, a meeting between the council and HRDC also failed to take place after the HRDC Northern Region chairperson Happy Mhango said they were informed late and could thus not make it.
The contentious issue in Mzuzu is on the route as Mzuzu City Council and police do not want the Katoto-Clock Tower-Court House route on the basis that it will disturb rehabilitation of the Mzuzu Highway, but HRDC insists on using the same.
Communication from HRDC shows that the grouping sent notifications to the councils on September 3 2018, and all four councils acknowledged by putting a stamp on the documents.
The demonstrations, whose theme is Restoring Our Destiny, are a follow-up to HRDC’s April 27 10-point petition against poor governance which the group claims government did not fully address.
Among issues to be raised in the demonstrations are government’s failure to address worsening corruption in the country and theft of fuel worth K 1.9 billion at Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (Escom).
They will also demand the resignation of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general Reyneck Matemba, and immediate suspension of the contract for the supply of gensets.
The HRDC cancelled the protests from September 7 2018 to September 21 to avoid clashes with governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) youth cadets who were expected to hold what they called a Blue March in Blantyre on the same day, but did not eventually do it.