Which way democratic Malawi?

Hon Folks, Secretary to Treasury Ben Botolo asks Eric Chapola to resign as MRA board chair. He does not say why. The latter complies without a fuss. Good riddance, Treasury heaves a sigh of relief.

Not so fast. The people of Malawi have the right to know what’s happening in government and why. That’s why Section 36 of the Constitution created free press as a watchdog for the people.

So when The Nation got wind of the change in MRA board, not only did it go about verifying the story but inevitably, the paper had to ask why Chapola had to go.

In case some folks don’t know, news stories are built by answering the questions who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Usually, when much of the story is broken in real time by social media, newspapers pitch their stories on the question why.

Back to the story of Chapola: why did he leave MRA? Chapola himself stressed that it wasn’t his wish to go but the Secretary to Treasury told him to resign. In other words, he was forced to go. Again, that begs the question, why?

A more telling explanation came from Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe.

He said: “I was told yesterday that he has resigned, which is surprising but not surprising as much as you know he is a brother to Callista. So, maybe he is not emotionally comfortable to work with us. But he was hardworking; we started to pick up good figures.”

The Callista being referred to here is Callista Mutharika, former president Bingu wa Mutharika’s widow, who ditched the governing DPP to join the newly-formed UTM. The good figures Goodall is referring to are tax revenue figures. The minister is acknowledging that under the chairmanship of Chapola, MRA’s performance on tax revenue collection was good.

Simply put, Chapola’s resignation is political and based on a “crime” his sister Callista, not himself, has committed.  He is a victim of collective punishment, a violation of human rights which rekindles painful memories of atrocities innocent people suffered under Kamuzu Banda’s regime simply for being related to the people the dictator regarded as enemies.

What aggravates the injustice that government has inflicted on Chapola is the fact that even his sister Callista is simply exercising her constitutional right to choose a political grouping she wants to associate with. She has not violated any law.

To punish Callista’s brother by denying him the opportunity to apply his knowledge and skills in the service of his motherland betrays a level of political intolerance that poses a threat to the political system that we, Malawians, chose through the 1993 national referendum. How can we have a multiparty system of government if being in opposition is regarded as being a rebel?

Only last week Patricia Dzimbili, MP for Balaka West, was almost beaten by DPP cadets when she attended a State function at which Minister of Agriculture Joseph Mwanamvekha was distributing government—not DPP—maize to hungry people in her own constituency. The cadets did not want her there for the simple reason that she too belongs to UTM.

In the recent past, the cadets are believed to have torched UTM vehicles in Mangochi and roughed up opposition MPs within the precincts of Parliament Building in full view of the police. Again in the recent past, the cadets targeted MCP president Lazarus Chakwera when he went up North to attend a Tumbuka cultural function. They also caused mayhem when opposition parties had a joint rally in Mzuzu.

Kamuzu vehemently defended the one-party system by arguing that “multiparty [in Malawi] means war.” Can we argue that the absence of war in the past 25 years means we’ve enjoyed peace and tranquillity? Is there sufficient peace to allow for the “unity in diversity” we cherished in the run-up to the 2013 referendum?

Now if it is true that leaders of parastatals must be those that belong to DPP, how does government explain the presence of our religious and traditional leaders in the boards of some parastatals? Are these people DPP members?

If yes, how does this fit in with the call APM made only last Sunday, urging the clergy to ensure they do not take sides in politics? n

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