‘President should stop scaring investors’

Executive director of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) ) Undule Mwakasungula, who is also chairperson of Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), speaks to our correspondent Albert Sharra on civil society and government relationship in the just ended year and other issues affecting Malawi.

The year 2011 is gone. What do you make out of the year?

The year had a lot of challenges, but with opportunities too. For us, NGOs, the year was a trying one, but also made us redefine our roles in the contribution to safeguard our democracy and human rights.

 

How do you describe NGOs’ relationship with government?

I must say the relationship with government was not good because of our active role in demanding good governance and accountability and government looked at us as playing politics. Due to the weakness of the opposition, we have put ourselves in a position where we are viewed to be opposition while that is not the case.

But it is important to note also that we have worked with the same government in many areas including policy formulation, implementation and monitoring, HIV and Aids, education, environment, small arms etc. So, you see at a technical level, we are working together closely, but it seems it is the politicians who are trying to confuse our relationship. What they don’t understand is that NGOs and government are partners in development. We all strive to make our country a better place.

 

What will be your priorities this year?

We have several priority areas such as making sure our country does not go back to dictatorship, safeguarding our hard won democracy by resisting all bad and undemocratic laws and continue advocate for good governance and promotion of human rights for all . We will also press for accountability and push for policies that will help uplift the welfare of Malawians.

 

Economic crisis has been a major challenge the country has faced in the year. Where do you think the country went wrong and what advice can you offer government if things are to improve?

There are many factors that have resulted in the financial mess we are in; these factors have been highlighted several times by economic experts, so l don’t want to dwell on that. But what I can say is that we can’t run this country without donor support and it’s a fact. To experiment zero-deficit budget on Malawians because you want to show that you can stand on your own when you cannot is torturing the people.

Do you see Malawi winning back the donor’s faith?

I don’t believe appointing Honourable Peter Mutharika to mend fences [with donors]  will help in resolving this as long as the government is not committed to sound economic policies, good governance and promotion of human rights for all including attacks against human rights defenders. The President should also stop scaring investors by threatening that they are the ones behind chronic forex problem.

 

President Bingu wa Mutharika has on several occasions attacked you during his rallies saying you don’t wish Malawi well. Why do you think he attacks you most than any other NGO leader?

The President himself knows very well why he always attacks me, but it tells that our advocacy is working and he is noticing our work…We have seen actions such as deportation of the British High Commissioner, the passing of undemocratic laws which denies Malawians their fundamental freedoms, and the imposing of policies such as quota system which has discriminated other regions and divided this country. If we resist this, then am I unpatriotic? Malawians are the ones to judge!

 

How do you react to such sentiments?

What makes me so sad when the President mentions my name is he forgets that I am one of those who protected him during his minority government. Malawians remember the first ever NGOs vigil led by HRCC to pass the budget and stop impeachment against him. It seems he has a short memory and does not appreciate the sacrifice we made for him because we thought he could make a difference for Malawi.

 

Your organisation recently released a statement saying the President is being used by Satan. Some quarters have argued that such statement was disrespectful to the President. Don’t you think you went overboard on the matter?

First, let me say this is not the first time the President has used the term Satan. If you remember when we organised the 20th July demonstrations, he called all of us being influenced by Satan.  We never complained nor cried as he was exercising his right.  This time around he admitted Satan is behind the problems this country is going through. And if Satan is behind these problems and him being President, then what do you make of that? Our humble advice to the President is to reflect seriously first before he makes an address to the nation because whatever he says will be traced back to him whether good or bad.

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