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Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development Grace Chiumia has told chiefs to support President Peter Mutharika or risk not being elevated.
In an address at a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rally at Katoto in Mzuzu also attended by DPP secretary general Greselder Jeffrey and national campaign director Jappie Mhango on Saturday, Chiumia warned the chiefs against siding with the opposition, saying that will not help them because it is Mutharika who has powers to elevate them.
But when asked on factors that lead to elevation of a chief, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa yesterday refused to comment on the matter.
The minister’s remarks have since been condemned by the opposition and the civil society organisations (CSOs).
In her remarks, Chiumia, who recently also stirred controversy when she said government was against the proposed 50-plus-one system of electing the country’s President, said chiefs should not be carried away by money they might get from the opposition, but should always know that if they want promotions, it is Mutharika who calls the shots.
She said: “I want to ask you chiefs, and I have seen that even my chiefs from Nkhata Bay are here, when you say you are supporting Professor Mutharika, support him wholeheartedly.
“This money that others give you will not take you anywhere. Tomorrow you will need promotions, you will need to be senior chiefs, you must know that it is the Professor [Mutharika] who elevates chiefs; the opposition does not elevate chiefs.”
During the meeting, group village head (GVH) Thula, who represented Traditional Authority Kabunduli of Nkhata Bay, drummed up support for DPP, stating that the party has done a lot while in power and there is need to continue supporting it.
He said: “We have plenty of maize in homes and at Admarc, what more would we want? I want to remind you something, these people, the Mutharikas, they are good people, very good people, we have peace in this country.”
But Thula took a swipe at advisers, alleging that they mislead leaders in this country.
In an interview, Senior Chief Chikulamayembe of Rumphi, while agreeing that chiefs are supposed to work with government of the day, said there was a limit.
He said: “It is proper that we should work with the government of the day, up to a certain point. Anyway, we are not supposed to go into the political arena, we are not. We have to realise our limitations as far as administration is concerned.
“As a traditional leader, I am the custodian of culture, but if somebody wants me to jump my boundaries, as far as my job is concerned, then we will be saying not this way, but that way.”
On his part, deputy secretary general for Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Eisenhower Mkaka, said it was unfortunate that Chiumia, who is also DPP deputy chief whip in Parliament, was failing to separate government from cultural affairs.
He said: “Chiefs should not be beaten into submission, they are traditional leaders and if they think that they can threaten chiefs into submission just to get support, then they are getting it wrong.
“The best lesson they could get is what we saw during the October 17 by-election when they used chiefs to threaten people but their subjects protested and voted otherwise. So they should know that in this time and era, people have learnt and that chiefs cannot tell them what to do.”
Mkaka also said the chiefs are being abused, further taking a swipe at some chiefs who meddle into politics.
Mzuzu-based Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka and Timothy Mtambo of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) have also described the remarks as unfortunate, undemocratic and retrogressive.
Said Kajoloweka: “We don’t think that chiefs should lose their integrity because they are looking for promotions. It is high time the minister tamed her tongue. As for GVH Thula, she seems to have become a DPP advocate, so whatever appeal she made was rubbish.”
Mtambo said the remarks show that the minister is devoid of values and principles.
Recently, Chiumia was also in the news for allegedly ordering the arrest of National Registration Bureau (NRB) officers in Mzuzu for planning to go on strike over their outstanding dues.