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Government queried on dialogue

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Government’s decision to institute a separate dialogue team to engage with the quasi-religious grouping Public Affairs Committee (Pac) has attracted criticism from some of the country’s social and political commentators.

Most of the commentators described the approach a non-starter considering the history of similar interventions in the past.

Minister of Information, Communications Technology and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati last week announced the formation of a five-member negotiating team meant to facilitate dialogue with Pac particularly on the resolutions from the grouping’s Fifth All-Inclusive Stakeholders Conference in Blantyre in February.

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Recently, Pac representatives met President Peter Mutharika but there were differences on several issues including his leadership style.

Social and political commentator Rafiq Hajat said government’s approach does not inspire confidence considering the fact that similar interventions have done little to address important issues.

The negotiations, he said, have tended to be strategies to buy time on the part of government.

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“Why do we need negotiating teams when we can speak face to face and the issues are clear cut? What middle ground would we be looking for? These are delaying tactics in the hope that public focus will soon move elsewhere,” said Hajat.

Centre for Development of People (Cedep) Executive Director Gift Trapence said government could be using the dialogue tactic to buy time.

“The discussions the CSOs and government had back in 2011 were not honest in terms of meeting the demands presented to government. Most of the times, such dialogue initiatives end up with [creating] policies and do not meet the timeframe set in the demands and in the end results are not seen.

“The recommendations that Pac made to government are urgent and need to be resolved immediately,” said Trapence.

He said government should have used the face to face interaction the two sides had to find a neutral ground.

Kaliati said in the statement that Mutharika values and prioritises dialogue on matters of national interest. The meeting between the dialogue team and Pac is scheduled for this week.

Presidential Advisor on National Unity Symon Vuwa Kaunda justified the dialogue approach observing that not all negotiations initiated in the past ended badly.

“The agenda to the Pac conference was to find solutions and since Pac has made suggestions and government has its own suggestions, dialogue is the best means. We saw in the past that dialogue with civil servants on their pay issues worked and matters of teacher salaries have in the past been resolved through negotiations. I do not see any reason government should buy time,” said Kaunda.

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