Capital Hill has refused to give in to most of the demands contained in the 10-point petition some civil society organisations (CSOs) presented on April 27 this year after holding nationwide protests.
Human Rights Defenders (HRD) chairperson Timothy Mtambo has since described the Executive’s reaction to the petition as an insult.
In a written reaction to the petition yesterday, Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) Lloyd Muhara said Capital Hill found some innuendos in the petition suggesting that President Peter Mutharika’s administration was illegitimate. He said the innuendos were ill-informed and irresponsible.
He said government also found the theme of the petition, Time to Reclaim Our Destiny, “misleading and unfortunate” as it insinuated that Malawians were being taken for granted, which was not the case.
However, government acknowledged challenges in the energy, health and water sectors as well as concerns of bias at the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) and taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
In their petition, the CSOs, among others, demanded that the President should cancel the appointment of Rodney Jose as Inspector General of Police and pushed for the retabling of the Electoral Reforms Bills in Parliament in their original form as recommended by the Special Law Commission on Electoral Reforms.
They also demanded cancellation of the K4 billion payout to legislators, resignations or dismissal of Cabinet ministers Goodall Gondwe (Finance, Economic Planning and Development) and Kondwani Nankhumwa (Local Government and Rural Development) over their role in the payout. Besides, they also wanted the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate the payout.
On the CSOs’ demand for government to re-table the Electoral Reforms Bills in their original form, Muhara said the demand undermined constitutional order and democratic systems because various players take different roles in the legislative process.
He said: “The law requires the Law Commission to present their findings and recommendations to Cabinet for consideration.
“These findings and recommendations are not government Bills. Cabinet has the power to examine the recommendations for compliance with the Constitution and public policy pursuant to its mandate under Section Six of the Constitution as the organ mandated to initiate government policy.”
Muhara said it would be ‘absurd’ to expect Cabinet to adopt Law Commission recommendations wholesale and present them as government Bills to Parliament without scrutiny.
On the K4 billion payout, the Chief Secretary rebuffed the CSOs’ calls for government to cancel the fund. He has since advised them to present their concerns to the Speaker of the National Assembly because the money was duly approved by Parliament.
Muhara also defended Mutharika’s decision to maintain Jose’s appointment, saying Parliament has the responsibility of scrutinising the proposed appointee and making a final decision.
Parliament approved Jose’s appointment as IG on June 26 after working in an acting capacity since May 1 2018.
Responding to alleged concerns of nepotism by the Mutharika administration, Muhara said statistics on the ground show that positions in government are fairly distributed. For instance, in the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and High Court of Malawi, he said the Northern Region has 13 judges, the South has 10, Central Region has four and Eastern Region has nine.
In terms of senior servants, he said the Central Region has the most officers occupying grades A to E at 179 followed by the Southern Region with 158, Eastern Region—including Ntcheu District which in terms of administration is regarded as in the Central Region—has 144 and the North has 116.
In the response, Muhara also said government is committed to concluding investigations into the murders of former Polytechnic fourth year engineering student Robert Chasowa and ACB senior official Issa Njauju.
On Njauju, the 14-page document says government has sought assistance from cooperating partners, including the United Kingdom which has offered its expertise to assist in carrying out the investigations.
Muhara also pledged that government will engage Macra and MBC on complaints that the State broadcaster is abusing taxpayers’ money to reward the regime’s political cronies it parades in its various programmes.
In the health sector, government said the Central Medical Stores Trust has made procurement of all essential medicines a priority.
But Muhara said government is concerned with pilferage of medicines in hospitals “perpetrated by irresponsible people” both in government and private hospitals.
He said in the 2017/18 financial year, government recruited 243 health workers, promoted 1 564 and recruited 46 nurses for the new Mercy James Paediatric Surgery and Intensive Care Unit at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.
In their petition, the CSOs also raised concern over the continued power outages and in response, Muhara said government is working to manage the situation through unbundling of Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom), reconstruction of the Liwonde Barrage and rehabilitation of Tedzani 3 Hydro Power Station.
On security guarantees for persons with albinism, he said government has put in place measures to facilitate easy access to justice for the victims.
But Mtambo, who acknowledged receipt of the government response, described the feedback as an insult to Malawians.
While stating that the CSOs will scrutinise the document, he argued that the Mutharika government and leadership was a joke.
Said Mtambo: “The Mutharika leadership is a big joke! So it has taken them over two months to acknowledge receipt and respond to serious people’s concerns? What an insult! They are now responding after they have arrogantly violated almost all the ultimatums and defied all critical demands.
“Look, Jose [Rodney] is now Inspector General of Police, K4 billion has been disbursed, Goodall Gondwe and Kondwani Nankhumwa are still Cabinet ministers… MBC is still partisan and worsening and corruption is growing to greater heights, now including the President himself, the list continues.”
He said the CSOs will soon meet to review the response and come up with a common position.