President Peter Mutharika has appointed a task force to probe the stampede that killed eight people and injured about 62 during the 53rd Independence Anniversary Celebrations at Bingu National Stadium on July 6.
In a statement signed by presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani, the President has given two weeks to the task force chaired by Principal Secretary (PS) in the Office of the President and Cabinet responsible for administration, Zangazanga Chikhosi, to look into the matter and come up with recommendations and measures to be taken.
Other members of the task force include Home Affairs and Internal Security PS Sam Madula, Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development PS Joseph Mwandidya, Football Association of Malawi representative and Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs senior assistant chief State advocate Steven Kayuni who will also act as secretary.
The appointment of the task force comes after witness accounts pointed fingers at the organising committee of the celebrations and stadium management for the delayed opening of gates as well as the Malawi Police Service (MPS) for poor crowd-control tactics employed in the situation.
The tragedy happened at around 9.30am when thousands of people, mainly school children from economically poor residential areas such as Senti and Mtandire around the stadium, ended up jostling to secure seats.
The President’s appointment of a task force is also in sharp contrast with what Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism Joseph Mwanamvekha, who chaired the main organising committee, earlier told The Nation yesterday that a commission of inquiry had been established to look into the issue.
Explaining the difference between a commission of inquiry and task force, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Khumbo Soko said it was a matter of legal competence, with a commission of inquiry being more powerful than a task force.
He said: “A commission of inquiry, while carrying out its work, is clothed with the powers of the High Court in so far as the summoning of witnesses and the compulsion of production of documents is concerned. So, it is a much more powerful body than a task force.
“I am not entirely sure how the task force will carry out its mandate, but I guess holding all things constant, it would have been better to appoint a commission. As it is, those who will cooperate with the task force will do so out of a sense of deference to the Executive, perhaps, but not necessarily a legal duty.”
Speaking at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) where he visited the high-dependency unit where the critically-injured were admitted and the mortuary where the dead were being identified by their families, the President, who was visibly moved, said good crowd control strategies could have averted the tragedy. n