Malawi government has expressed its disappointment over civil society organisations (CSOs) decision to withdraw from their planned dialogue, but governance expert has backed Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), accusing the authorities of attempting to derail Friday's nationwide protests.
Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi, who is also the official government spokesperson, accused the HRDC of "uncivil manner and deliberate antagonist approaches" aimed at frustrating government's intentions for deepening democracy and development through dialogue.
Dausi said in a statement that government is also perplexed with the excuses given by the CSOs considering that the so called rules of engagement for the dialogue process are ordinarily supposed to be developed, negotiated, and adopted in a collective manner and not imposed by one side as the CSOs conducted themselves.
He said government would leave the door open for dialogue with the civil society members to resolve any misunderstanding" without the sense of 'civil society dictatorship' characterized with unbridled egos from the leadership of the HRDC."
Dausi said dialogue is a give and take process where every aspect of engagement is discussed on the dialogue table and nowhere else.
"This technical dialogue process is an opportunity for the CSOs to engage duty-bearers in a healthy conversation that brings results for advancing our national interest," he added.
"Government wishes to remind the HRDC that their claim as champions of human rights loses meaning the moment they begin to carry a 'know-it-all attitude' and portraying that they are above anyone else in as far as matters of national interest are concerned, by imposing their wishes on others without creating room for a dialogue. This attitude erodes the image of the HRDC as they technically cease to be effective human rights defenders and leaves many wondering what they are actually defending," reads the statement in part
But HRDC leaders told reporters in Lilongwe that they made a decision not to be on the dialogue table because government ignored their proposed terms of engagement, including having President Peter Mutharika or relevant Cabinet ministers in attendance.
They activists have since wrote the Chief Secretary to the Government, Lloyd Muhara, saying they strongly believe government had a hidden agenda to sabotage and derail their planned demonstrations against corruption and impunity set for Friday, September 21 across four cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre and Zomba.
"We requested the senior government officials to be part of the dialogue for a purpose. Surprisingly, the government has opted to make vague reference to an unspecified ensemble of the so-called senior government officials. This is questionable," said HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo.
In another news conference held in Lilongwe chairperson of the government negotiating team, who is also Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) Principal Secretary (Administration) Cliff Chiunda said the withdraw of the CSOs is "a very bad moment for Malawi."
But HRDC in a statement said the belated calls for dialogue and "overzealous propaganda trivialising this process" have led to their conclusion that the government is "simply playing games with us as they continue taking the suffering and voices of Malawians for granted."
The activist queried if it is asking for too much when citizens who are employers are demanding to meet their servants.
"This attitude towards demands for transparency, accountability and rule of law does not assure any Malawian of prospects of fruitful contact and dialogue with the Government, even though we know that it was not genuine."
The CSOs wonder why it took government 150 days to think about having a dialogue with citizens when it is just hours to demonstrations.
"We would like to notify you that we think that you are taking us for granted and we do not have time for political games when Malawians are suffering.
"Through this statement, we would like to inform government that HRDC will not engage in dialogue until such a time the President, Ministers and the senior government officials are available to engage the citizens," reads the HRDC letter to OPC.
Governance expert and commentator Makhumbo Munthali ton Nyasa Times that dialogue must be based on principles of honesty and transparency, saying the CSOs are justifies in their action.
"What we saw completely defeated this whole principle as government could not disclose the identity of the so-called government technocrats who were to enter into dialogue with the CSOs. Besides, reasons were not given as to why the President would not attend the meeting. This on my view was a typical case of executive arrogance we have all along seen where the President has often been accorded the semi-god status where he cannot be approached by his people," Munthali said.
"As a principal duty bearer and also mindful of some of the issues the CSOs were raising it was incumbent upon the President to face his critics and respond to their issues. This would have given the seriousness and political clout to the whole dialogue process," he added.
Munthali said by failing to disclose the reason why the President would not attend when everyone knows he is in the country, the government side was indirectly communicating that the said dialogue was not a priority to the President and hence didn't bother to even give explanation behind his absence.
He suspects a dialogue meeting was a brain-child of somebody within the President's circles in order to score a political point in the eyes of the President.