By Wanangwa Chafulumira:
The European Union (EU) on Thursday met with some Cabinet ministers in a scheduled political dialogue where, among other issues, they discussed the May 21 elections with government also promising to provide a conducive environment for civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country to thrive.
But Timothy Mtambo, Vice-Chairperson of the CSOs operating under the banner of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) described government’s commitment as mere rhetoric aiming at gaining political mileage.
In a joint statement issued on Thursday after the meeting, the two parties reaffirmed their partnership ahead of the elections.
During the meeting, some
ministers, led by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Emmanuel Fabiano, reiterated Malawi’s commitment to democratic values and appreciated EU for its continued support in the field of governance.
Government expressed its commitment to ensure conducive operating environment to promote maximum value of resources with CSOs.
“In this regard, the EU reiterated the importance to preserve a conducive environment for CSOs. The government recalled that the NGO Bill was still being scrutinised by Parliament,” reads part of the statement.
The EU delegation was led by Sandra Paesen, European Union Ambassador to Malawi, who was joined by Jürgen Borsch, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Holly Tett, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom, among other dignitaries.
But Mtambo doubted government’s sincerity Friday.
“That commitment was just made on the basis of getting the money or support from the EU but, on the ground, there are all the indicators that government is working against CSOs. Reality on the ground is very clear that government waged war against CSOs.
“That is why we saw government coming up with an NGO Bill without consulting us the stakeholders, so you can see that all the actions by government are acting contrary to that commitment they are making to EU,” he said.
During the meeting, government briefed EU on steps taken in line with the agreed roadmap towards resumption of direct budgetary support.
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe in an interview Friday said, although he was not part of the Malawi delegation that attended the dialogue, he is optimistic about the budgetary support resumption.
“We have done what the European Union advised us to do, we are very optimistic that, come February, the European Union may resume budgetary support to Malawi although it is not much,” Gondwe said.
He said he was happy with the support that countries in EU have been rendering to Malawi.
The meeting further discussed security ahead of and during the elections in May.
“With regard to security planning, both the Malawi Police Service and Malawi Defence Forces are prepared to ensure that citizens are secure in exercising their rights.
“Both sides noted that the government and the EU will make available additional resources to cater for the security and logistical requirements and transparent, inclusive and credible elections,” reads part of the statement.
Highlights of the meeting
- Government reiterated its commitment to upholding human rights, particularly curbing the kidnapping, abuse and ritual killings of people with albinism.
- EU reaffirmed its commitment to continue as an important development cooperation partner.
- EU reaffirmed support in the agriculture sector, including irrigation, agro-processing and agri-business environment.
- EU gave indicators about possible future orientations based on the commission’s proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework.
- EU confirmed readiness to support Malawi’s sustainable and inclusive economic growth as defined under the programme for Malawi (2015-2020) in line with the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.
- EU briefed Malawi government on the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs and the European Investment Plan and how these initiatives could benefit Malawi.
- Government emphasised the critical role that Malawi is playing in promoting peace and security in the region on the African continent.
- EU reiterated its condolences on the death of six UN Malawi soldiers who were killed during peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- The two sides also discussed migration, including migration within the African continent, and the future of the EU-ACP Partnership beyond 2020.
- In conclusion, government reaffirmed its commitment to honour the Malawi/EU Article 8 Political Dialogue.
HRDC has since 2014 been on President Peter Mutharika’s neck over perceived deteriorating governance and economic affairs in the country.
Recently, the CSOs expressed concern over the NGO Bill arguing, among others, the proposed law seeks to amend the NGO Act by establishing an authority which aims at tightening the noose for CSOs.
A Malawi Gazette supplement dated November 9 2018 containing a bill revealed that the bill would strengthen the role that the current NGO Board plays in regulating NGOs in the country.
“The bill seeks to achieve this by removing the reference to a non-statutory established institution the Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (Congoma) and allow the membership of that organisation to become voluntary.
“The bill further removes all statutory responsibilities of Congoma and rightly places those responsibilities under the board,” reads part of the bill.
Mtambo then said the introduction of this law by the government is repressive and the objective is to infringe the civic space.
He argued that the bill renders CSOs powerless to engage, to advocate change and fight for the betterment of the citizen further saying the organisations were not consulted on the matter.
“This is an effort to shrink citizen’s voice to demand accountability from the government, this is a repressive law that is against the constitutional and international best practices of NGO laws.
“There is no way they would come up with an amendment to an existing law without doing thorough consultations with the stakeholders involved. The HRDC will be meeting with the entire NGO community, we are going to work with Congoma to ensure that this does not take place,” he said.
The bill further states that government will appoint people into NGO Regulating Authority which will comprise 11 members.
HRDC Vice-Chairperson Gift Trapence faulted government for putting in place a provision of the minister to be the appointee of members of the authority.
Malawi Human Rights Commission in its policy brief presented in the last sitting of Parliament on the bill recommended that the bill be redrafted and the process to be consultative and participatory.
He said the bill cannot be withdrawn but rather be refined when it is due for amendment.
The human rights’ defenders Wednesday gave Mutharika 20 days to respond to issues raised in a petition they presented to the Office of President and Cabinet on September 21 2018.
In the petition, the CSOs demand, among others, a return of the K145 million which Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) benefited from Malawi Police Service food rations deal to Malawians, answers on 4.2 million litres theft of fuel at Escom and an end to corruption and DPP to stop inciting political violence and intimidation of CSOs.
But Presidential Press Secretary Mgeme Kalilani dismissed the CSOs’ call saying if what the civil society are asking for is acknowledgement of their communication to the government, that was already done further accusing the CSOs of lacking seriousness. —Additional reporting by Rebecca Chimjeka