1 January 2018

Malawi Has 'Mercenary' CSOs, Says Human Rights Defender

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo has said Malawi government is employing tactics to stifle civic society from carrying out its watchdog role as well as pushing for good governance.

Mtambo, who is also Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition, said in a published interview that there are State sponsored CSOs as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government to trying ti silence voices geared at holding authorities accountable.

He refused to mention the "mercenary CSOs" but said "you will know them by their works."

Said Mtambo: " It is not a secret that some CSOs are being bankrolled by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] to bring division in civil society. Such CSOs have been given unwarranted coverage on the state-funded MBC, castigating fellow CSOs in the name of freedom of expression."

Mtambo said while rights defenders welcome attempts to introduce Non-Governmental Organisation [NGO] Policy and review the laws, what is crucial is the contents behind the laws or provisions in the Act or the policy.

"It has been observed that some provisions are aimed to shrink the CSOs' space, such as the proposal for mandatory registration, it limits the freedom of association, people should not be prevented from contributing just because they are not registered with the NGO Board," he said.

He said the proposed reviews of the NGO act and policy are introducing "unnecessary bureaucracies in terms of financial and programmes procedures in the name of accountability, this requirement has the potential of shrinking the CSOs space again."

However, on a positive note, he said the CSOs are pleased to note that the government has been putting efforts aimed at improving and finalising the review of the Act and policy and they hope for the better outcome.

Mtambo also condemned what he called "the threats and arbitrary arrest" some civic leaders and citizens have been subjected to.

" For instance, the case in Mzuzu whereby employees from National Registration Bureau [NIB] were arrested after the order by a Minister, Grace Chiumia and the arrest of Beatrice Mateyo during a march against gender-based violent, all these buttresses to the fact the current administration is never serious on human rights issues or even in ensuring that the CSOs have a favorable environment for its work.

"We expect to have a vigilant government, a government which puts concerted efforts in protecting and promoting the rights of its people," he said.

He also said some State officials use verbal threats against those critical of the administration.

"For instance, we have seen the leadership describing those opposed to his policies as ;stupid'. Critics have also been labelled agents of the opposition, 'unpatriots' or hell-bent at tarnishing the 'good' image of the current administration simply for holding the government accountable," he said..

Mtambo said branding CSOs as "opposition agents" is in fact one of the tactics being used to limit or in some cases entirely suppress civil society's space.

"For instance, recently, following criticism over government's handling of the proposed electoral law reforms, we have seen CSOs, including the Public Affairs Committee [PAC], being accused of colluding with the opposition to bring the government down. We have also seen a growing tendency of using chiefs to castigate and threaten those critical of the administration," he said.

Mtambo said the civil society will continue with their plan to develop different types of programmes to consolidate democracy and contributing to development .

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