December 19 2019
So, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) on Wednesday ushered in a new executive! The election saw Monsignor Dr Patrick Thawale taking over from Reverend Felix Chingota to lead a new committee for the quasi-religious body.
Established in 1992 by the religious community and other pressure groups to enter into dialogue with Kamuzu Banda’s Presidential Committee on Dialogue in the transition from the one party system to multiparty system of government, PAC’s contribution to Malawi’s social-economic and political landscape cannot be overemphasised.
Most of the times, PAC’s role has been to bring seemingly warring parties to the roundtable. We have seen the body, which is the national chapter of the World Conference of Religion and Peace (WCRP), come out during crises. We all remember how PAC fought tooth and nail against Bakili Muluzi’s attempts to amend the Constitution to allow for a Third Term and consequently the Open Terms Bill.
President Bingu wa Mutharika’s second term was a spate of bad governance. Unlike his first term, where he delivered to the satisfaction of most Malawians, that they gave him about 66 percent of the vote, the second term brought us a Bingu who was adamant and could only listen to his own voice. Fuel shortages rocked the country, academic freedom was under threat and he could make unilateral decisions that cost the country not only money but also time. Remember how he handled the Nsanje Port issue?
As a matter of fact, Mutharika’s misrule led to the July 20 demonstrations that led to the loss of about 20 lives. As a matter of fact, PAC had given Mutharika 60 days to sort out the political mess but, sadly, the President died before the ultimatum expired.
Over the years, PAC has been involved in mediation and dialogue, where need be. When the Muluzi-Mutharika debacle reached colossal levels, PAC offered to bring the two to talks, necessary moves.
But, as the new executive gets down to business, I hope they will chew upon a few things. Firstly, does PAC really stamp authority on Malawian affairs today as it did at the dawn of the new era? I would to the line of those who say PAC is not as authoritative as it used to be.
It is apparent that our leaders have more often than not undermined PAC’s efforts. Not so long ago, PAC organised peace prayers but crucial players Saulos Chilima and Peter Mutharika stayed away. In fact, Chilima has put it outright that he is not ready to meet PAC unless the presidential elections case is concluded.
While Mutharika agreed to meet the outgoing PAC executive to make a commitment for peace if the Constitutional Court declares the May 21 presidential elections null and void, he went on the political pedestal during the launch of the National Tree Planting Season in Mulanje to rile those questioning the legitimacy of his tenure. On the day, a seemingly irate Mutharika shouted threats against those he deemed ‘enemies of his rule’.
It is high time PAC moved from being just another advocacy platform. It is time they sat down and rebranded to take a more activist role if they are to maintain their relevance. It is a given fact that PAC is dealing with politicians who are mostly double-faced. It is high time PAC did away with its soft advocacy and constant ‘resolutions’ that are barely implemented.
Further, it is my view that PAC must not relent to see that the Electoral Reform Bills are brought back to Parliament. Like I said the other day, we are in this political mess simply because the ruling DPP at some point chose to adulterate the bills to suit its own tastes. PAC must be vigilant and lobby parliament to table and pass the bills for prosperity’s sake.
Remember, the bills propose a 50+1 majority for the winner in the presidential race. They also move that a president should not be sworn in until after 30 days, with a council ruling the country in the interim. They also propose that each district should have one constituency where only women would contest which is some affirmative action in the 50-50 representation goal.
I can’t agree more with the Women Lawyers’ Association (WLA) submission to the Constitutional Court which recommends, among other things, that the judges call for the consideration of passing the Electoral Reforms Bills. PAC, certainly, has the moral obligation to up the fight for this important piece of legislation.