The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) on Wednesday and Thursday organised a conference to find solutions to problems the country is currently facing. Paida Mpaso caught up with chairperson of the organising committee Bishop James Tengatenga on the sidelines of the meeting to shed more light on its objectives.
What is the main objective of this conference?
The main objective of this meeting is to find a way of putting Malawi back on its democratic course and redeem ourselves from the political and economic plight that we are in.
Why are you saying we need to redeem ourselves?
In 1994, we voted for a democratic dispensation, which we hoped was going to usher in an economically viable country; that was our dream and continues to be our dream. But that dream seems to be shattered, given the violation of democratic processes and the frustrations of the rights of the people. [There are] intimidations of all kinds and, of course, the economic plight that we are in at the moment.
We are wondering if there are ways through which that can be resolved and, so, [we have brought together] people from all walks of life so that we can brainstorm and find a new way of engaging not only with the situation but with the government in a constructive way that can bring Malawi to a better place.
Do you think you will achieve such objectives, given that government officials have boycotted the meeting?
We will achieve our objectives which are to chart courses and then engage with government. The question, however, is whether that engagement with government will achieve something. We can always leave that to government. Our desire is to engage with government. Itâ€™s a pity that they chose not to attend this meeting. [But] why should a government be afraid of its own people? Why should they shun their own people? We hope that they will not shun us when we want to meet them.
Is it true that you want to topple government?
Thatâ€™s false, completely false, because if we wanted to bring down government, why would we lie about it? Honestly speaking, in a nation like ours, we would not bother to lie about it. Itâ€™s not our intention. Our intentions are to see that there is good governance, there is good political climate within which democratic rights and principles can be followed.
[We want to see that] government is a responsible government that listens to people, engages them, is responsive to peopleâ€™s queries and questions and that is why we invited them. If we really wanted to topple them, would we really have invited them? Obviously you would not do that. We invited them so that we can engage together.
Not only are we doing this to find ways to engage with government, but also accord government an opportunity to engage and listen and be present at these meetings so that they should have a context within which these things are coming. Unfortunately, they chose not to come, but there is no way we can be devising the overthrow of government, PAC does not have that mandate.
Why then do you think government is saying you want to topple it?
I wish I were a mind reader, but I am not. I donâ€™t know really, but people have questions and the people gathered here are representatives of political parties, civil society and the church. They have questions to ask and they [government] should have been around. The idea is to bring people together so that those ideas and solutions can be shared and examined together to see a way forward.
Maybe what scares them [government] is to see such kind of a gathering, but that should not scare them. Or [maybe they remember] 1992 when we openly challenged government to change and later campaigned for multiparty democracy. [So] why would we lie now?
PAC has maintained the theme â€˜Reclaiming our destinyâ€™ which it used when fighting for multiparty democracy. Why is this so?
We wanted a democratic State and a government that is open to all. We wanted a government that would be attentive to people, a government that would be open to people and one that would not intimidate its subjects, but we seem to be going in the direction of intimidating people, and therefore not listening. The democratic dispensation is going in the wrong direction.
Who is funding PAC?
Itâ€™s the Public Affairs Committee that is funding us. As you are aware, I am not in the board, but the board would know the exact sources from which they have tapped to run the conference.
What would be the way forward?
The recommendations will be used to engage with the State for us to move forward so that the economic downturn can be turned into something positive. Obviously, there will be recommendations that will call for specific calls and, as PAC, we will give directions, pointing to particular actions government will need to take so that they bring government back on course. We hope this can be the basis.
What if government does not listen to your recommendations?
Then we will have a problem. If government refuses to listen to the people who have given them mandate, then itâ€™s up to the people to tell them what to think. We are people of hope and believe that government is not a bunch of monsters. [We believe government] is responsive and since we are looking at the common good of the country, we hope they will listen. I regret the fact that they are missing here because they are Malawians and we should live together in peace and tolerate one another.