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Malawi Law Society slams Government

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The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has faulted the Executive arm of government for violating principles of openness while not sparing the Judiciary, which has been accused of delaying judgements and not being open in the appointment of judges.

In its statement on the ‘State of Governance in Malawi in 2015’ released on Wednesday, MLS observes that “a crisis of good governance is what has largely been behind the underdevelopment of this country”.

In the statement, signed by MLS president John Suzi Banda and Honorary Secretary Khumbo Bonzoe Soko, MLS defines good governance as adherence to policies of transparency and accountability in government, civil society participation, and respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

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“While the business of the judicial and legislative organs of government has traditionally been conducted in the open, the same cannot exactly be said of the Executive. It was precisely for this reason that the Society consistently called for the enactment of the Access to Information (ATI) Bill in the year 2015.

“This law will help in opening up the operations of the government, especially the Executive, to whose care vast public resources have been entrusted, to more public scrutiny. That this proposed law was not passed in 2015 was a setback to our collective efforts at holding our governors accountable. It remains our sincere hope that the ATI Bill shall be passed in the year 2016,” reads part of MLS’s statement.

MLS adds that holders of state power need to realise that their powers are exercised on behalf of the citizens of Malawi.

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The lawyers’ body encourages the government to conduct its business in an open and transparent fashion, observing that: “this empowers citizens to assess for themselves the quality of the stewardship of the resources and power that they have entrusted to their governors”.

While vowing not to relent on advocating for accountability in government affairs, MLS also has a bone to pick with the Judiciary.

“The Society continues to hope for a Judiciary where quality decisions are delivered timeously. We are firm in our conviction that there can simply be no justification for court rulings and judgments to remain pending for two or more years.

“The Society will in the year 2016 continue to work with the Honourable Chief Justice and the Judicial Service Commission to ensure that systems are put in place for demanding accountability from those members of the Judiciary who default on their constitutional duty to dispense justice to the citizenry in a competent and timely manner,” MLS observes in the statement.

MLS also vows to continue to call for more transparency in the appointment of judges to the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal, observing that, despite Section 5 of the Judicature Administration Act empowering the Judicial Service Commission to develop regulations for the nomination of persons to judicial offices and for the discipline of those so appointed, the regulations have not been adopted.

“The view of the Society is that transparency in the appointment of judges will go a long way in ensuring that the Judiciary retains the confidence and trust of the citizenry in Malawi. The Society makes these observations relating to the Judiciary fully aware of the pernicious resource constraint under which the Judiciary operated in the past year.

“It remains our hope that in 2016, both the Executive and Legislative organs of government will ensure that the Judiciary is adequately resourced to meet its constitutional mandate,” MLS observes.

But, despite expressing reservations on a number of issues, MLS commends the Executive and its organs for respecting people’s right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate in the year 2015. It also hails members of the civil society for providing a platform for critical and fair review of government policies and actions.

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