Civil Society Organisations say government should focus on the issues that were raised in the petition instead of just targeting the forthcoming demonstrations, affirming the Friday September 21 nationwide protests should the grievances be not resolved between now and then.
Gift Trapence, Vice Chairperson for the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) was responding to questions on the status of demonstrations and the proposed discussions with the government.
The activists gave government ‘fresh demands’ in August this year, following what they called an ‘appalling response’ to the petition which they had submitted in April.
Among others, the CSOs demanded the president to respond on the fight against corruption, abuses at ESCOM and prolonged blackouts and reports of nepotism in senior government positions.
They also wanted answers on the promotion of impunity, protection of people with albinism, the worsening of water problems in the country and progress on youth empowerment and employment among other grievances.
But just few days before the protests, the government through, Office of the President and Cabinet, wrote the organisers inviting them for a ‘dialogue meeting’ on Tuesday, saying this was a follow up on the ‘engagement that government initiated with the Human Rights Defenders Coalition’.
The letter described the response that the government provided the activists regarding the April petition as ‘detailed.’
“You are kindly being informed that government has initiated this round-table dialogue which is intended to offer additional accountability and greater clarification on the Government Response of July, 2018. This dialogue meeting will also provide an opportunity for continuous engagement on any other matters of national interest, including those that may be related to the planned 21st September, 2018 demonstrations,” reads the letter in part signed by Cliff Chiunda, Principal Secretary (Administration) in the OPC.
But the human rights defenders, who said they only received the request on Monday evening and few hours away from the meeting, noted that the letter did not have enough details like the identities the officials they were meeting.
In a letter responding to the request, the activists have asked the government to reschedule the meeting to Wednesday, 19 September, and only if specific conditions are met.
“We would like to categorically state that we are perplexed with both the timing and lack of detail on the nature and scope of dialogue, as it coincides with our plans to hold peaceful nationwide demonstrations demanding greater transparency and accountability on the part of the government,” reads the response.
Apart from the proposal to have the meeting covered by the print and electronic media instead of being conducted in camera ‘for the interest of Malawians’, the activists have also called for guarantee on safety and security including the neutrality of the venue.
The government earlier requested to hold the meeting at the Office of the President and Cabinet offices at Capital Hill in Lilongwe.
Moreover, they have also demanded the presence of senior government representatives directly connected to the concerns raised including the President Peter Mutharika.
Other officials include the Minister of Finance, Goodal Gondwe, Minister of Information and Technology, Nicholas Dausi, Chief Secretary to the Government, Llyold Muhara, Attorney General, Charles Mhango, Inspector General of Malawi Police Service, Director Generals of Ant-Corruption Bureau (ACB), ESCOM and MERA. The list also includes Chief Executive Officers of Admarc, Escom and Teveta.
When contacted for comment, Minister of Information, Nicholas Dausi said he had not having seen the letter from the CSOs and that he would only comment after seeing it.