from MAVHUTO BANDA in Lilongwe, Malawi
LILONGWE, (CAJ News) – AT the country’s 56th independence anniversary last year, newly-elected Malawi president, Lazarus Chakwera, pledged to end a trend by his predecessors who were “promising political tolerance but delivering human rights abuses.”
His assurances to deepen democracy aimed at building on the Constitutional Court’s historic annulment of elections held the previous year after evidence of vote-rigging retained his predecessor, Peter Mutharika, in power.
Fresh elections paved way for the former church leader’s ascension as independent Malawi’s sixth president.
It was the first time that the courts overturned the outcome of an election in the Southern African country’s history, and the second time this happened in the continent after Kenya’s polls were annulled in 2017 for similar reasons.
Subsequent polls held in Malawi in June 2020 would be the first that an opposition leader won elections since the advent of multiparty polls in 1994.
Independence was secured 30 years earlier, setting Malawi on a path of dictatorship under Kamuzu Banda (now late).
A year into his presidency, Chakwera is also facing criticism for evolving into a dictator and deviating from the pledge of entrenching democracy.
The country of more than 19 million people on Tuesday marked 57 years of independence from Britain.
The state’s intentions to enact alleged draconian laws against the tenets of the former Nyasaland’s democracy, and the lavish spending on the festivities at a time the economy is searing under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic overshadowed the run-up to this year’s commemorations.
The Labour Relations (Amendment), Income Tax Bill as well as alleged tampering with the judiciary are at the centre of the strains between Chakwera’s Tonse-led government and civil society organisations.
The Labour Relations (Amendment) has raised the most ire.
Critics believe the bill seeks to ban workers’ strikes and give employers the right to deduct wages of striking workers.
The instrument also seeks to clarify categories of essential services to which the right to strike and lockdown will not apply.
Through the legal instrument, Chakwera’s government is apparently targeting teachers and medical workers, the former who have recently been on strike over COVID-19 risk bonuses.
“This must be stopped at all cost,” Sylvester Namiwa, Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) Executive Director, told journalists ahead of the independence celebrations.
“President Chakwera is changing the laws and stopping people from exercising their right to demonstrate against violations on their rights,” he added.
The civil society organisation is not convinced by the government’s explanation on the labour amendments.
Chikosa Silungwe, the Attorney General, said the legal instrument was based on the International Labour Organisation’s guidelines and international best practices.
These, he argued, empowered employers to impose the principle of “no work, no pay.”
“The punitive advance income tax that will condemn more people into poverty,” Silungwe said.
“It is against this background we are challenging the president against assenting to the punitive income tax bill.”
The Income Tax Bill has also angered CDEDI.
On the contrary, the organisation expected a taxes waiver to enable the recovery of small and medium business operators from the impact of the COVID-19.
The government has also come under criticism for its deploying of top judges as envoys.
The deployments follow maladministration at Malawi’s diplomatic missions, the most recent embarrassment being the implication of envoys later expelled from South Africa for engaging in illicit trade in duty-free alcohol.
High Court Judges Esme Chombo and Agnes Patemba are among those assigned to serve in foreign missions.
Chombo was on the verge of concluding one of the country’s high-profile murder cases, against Misonzi Chanthunya, accused of murdering a Zimbabwean woman, Linda Gasa, in 2010. She was said to be his girlfriend.
Patemba has been hailed for tackling sexual and gender-based violence.
It is unclear how cases they were handling would progress.
Chakwera’s administration was forced to backtrack on plans to spend on spending K244 million (US$305 000) on Independence Day celebrations, at a time the economy is stressed.
After Malawians protested on social media, the budget was eventually cut to K50 million.
At the main event in Lilongwe, the president launched a tirade, mocking decorations as “ugly.”
Political analyst, Osias Kapesa, said, Chakwera’s cabinet appointments when he assumed power were an indication that “Malawi’s politics was heading in the wrong direction.”
The 31-member cabinet included six officials are related to each other, although they were not related to the Chakwera.
“The signs were always there but were ignored under the euphoria of ‘change’,” Kapesa said.
Speaking recently at a nurses’ awards ceremony in Lilongwe, Chakwera said the government would deliver on its election pledges.
“We will keep building the new Malawi we pledged brick by brick and layer by layer,” the president said.
“My challenge to all of us is to embrace the change and reject some negativity some are invoking at every turn,” he insisted.
– CAJ News