Some Civil Society Organisation (CSO) leaders in the country have owned up to the assertion that the majority of them have derogated their responsibility to help government run its affairs in the interest of the citizenry by opting to align themselves with the ruling party.
CSOs in the country have in the past shown unity of purpose when advocating for issues of public interest including forcing government to reverse its position on unpopular laws.
Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), Executive Director, Gift Trapence, who has been among the vocal CSO leaders, admitted that the CSO platform has been greatly compromised.
“The main challenge is the politicisation of CSOs’ space, lack of funding and the attitude of becoming spectators whenever we have new administrations. We have had so many NGOs almost in all the democratic administrations who have been used as government agents. This is because most CSOs do not have a solid financial base and principles that define their institutions,” he said.
His assertions were corroborated by Malawi Health Equity Network (MEHN) Executive Director, Martha Kwataine.
“Those assertions may be right because people out there expect a lot from CSOs. There are a lot of issues that have caused these problems, among them being threats that CSO leaders receive from some people. Most of the times when an individual speaks on behalf of an organisation, they are targeted. But all in all, there is a need for the CSO community to re-strategise,” she said.
Of late, there have been a few CSO voices that have been pushing for redress in various problematic areas.
The issues included the National Aids Commission (Nac) funding to some organisations linked to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the controversial sale of Malawi Savings Bank (MSB), the K92 billion audit, soaring tariffs of telephony services and lack of essential drugs in public hospitals.
The development has prompted political commentators to speculate that the silence by most CSOs was because they were expecting favours from the current DPP administration.
This, according to Trapence, is one of the problems that are putting at risk the fight for civil rights in the country.
“The passiveness of CSOs is always there whenever we have new administrations. CSO leaders are always excited with new administrations which come with high expectations. This was the case with the Peoples Party administration where we had very few CSOs speaking on democracy and good governance. The same trend is continuing now,” said Trapence.
However, chairperson for Human Rights Consultative Committee, Robert Mkwezalamba, promised that the CSOs would bounce back soon.
“After the July 20, 2011 petition there were discussions that led to implementation on several issues. We have been monitoring where about 40 percent of these were met. But to say we have not being very active is not wrong only that we were being dictated by strategy. Apart from that we had to give the current administration some space but by early 2016 there should be a change,” he said.
But renowned civil rights campaigner, Billy Mayaya, doubted if the state would silence the civil society.
He recently petitioned the Speaker of the National Assembly, Richard Msowoya, asking him to throw out 11 United Democratic Front (UDF) MPs, alleging that they had crossed the floor by sitting on government benches,
“The government does not have the capacity to influence all outcomes in civil society. So this is mere speculation and conjecture. There are no significant changes in CSO unity. CSOs continue to pursue avenues to demand transparency and accountability from government on a wide range of issues including areas of specialisation.
“The collective voice of CSOs is heard through the various sectoral networks as well as through umbrella bodies such as Council for Non Govermental Organisations (Congoma) and that current arrangement is sufficient in my view,” he said.
In 2011, Congoma, the umbrella body for all NGOs in the country, intensified its advocacy role on various issues that culminated in the July 20, 2011 nationwide demonstrations that left 20 people dead.
However, current Congoma chairperson Macbain Mkandawire said CSOs in the country are performing their roles according to their mandate.
“It is not fair to criticise Malawi CSOs as being passive. Each NGO in country belongs to a sector. Therefore, those that are speaking out are doing that based on their sector demands. Some are in political governance, some in economy, health and education. As such it is not wise for Congoma to come out and comment on issues that can be best tackled by individual CSOs unless asked to do so,” he said.
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