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State House speaks on immunity

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NAMIWA—We are giving you, Your
Excellency, 14 days

The State House has said the thorny issue of trimming presidential powers is not a priority at the moment, saying President Lazarus Chakwera is prioritising the review of laws which directly affect Malawians.

Presidential Press Secretary Anthony Kasunda said this at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe Monday during a State House Quarterly Briefing.

Kasunda was responding to a question on why Chakwera has been slow to push for laws that would see his presidential powers trimmed as promised in the run-up to the June 23 2020 presidential election.

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Last week, Vice- President Saulos Chilima said there was a need to fast-track the review of presidential immunity laws, as promised by the Tonse Alliance on the campaign trail.

But Kasunda said Chakwera is prioritising review of laws that directly affect Malawians, citing land, sedition and other laws.

“At the moment, the President wants laws that directly affect Malawians to be addressed. At an appropriate time, the President will address issues that affect the Office of the President,” Kasunda said.

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Briefing reporters in Lilongwe last week, Chilima said UTM, as one of the Tonse Alliance partners, remains committed to the fight against corruption, adding that that is the reason the UTM strongly advocated for the amendment of Section 91(2) of the Constitution of Malawi, which provides undue protection to the occupant of the office of president.

According to Chilima, while the Vice President of this country can, and must, be investigated or prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing, it is completely misplaced that presidents have a veil of constitutional protection from criminal prosecution through immunity while in office.

“One of the concrete goals of the Tonse Alliance, which has yet to be attended to, was to remove presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. This promise was pronounced under the campaign agenda of the alliance.

“This is the time to amend the Constitution of Malawi in order to remove the immunity which presidents of this country enjoy under Section 91(2) of the Constitution so that everyone in Malawi can be prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing,” he said.

At yesterday’s briefing, the State House highlighted some of the major achievements the Tonse Administration has registered in the past two years.

Chakwera was sworn in on June 28 2020.

The achievements highlighted included safety nets initiatives such as social protection programmes that have seen poor and vulnerable households receiving cash handouts from the government.

The State House also said, in the past two years, the government has, through the National Economic Empowerment Fund (Neef), loaned out over K25 billion to Malawians, including women and the youth.

On infrastructure development projects, the State House said the government has rehabilitated Chakazi Bridge in Mzimba and Ruo Bridge and has embarked on road rehabilitation projects across the country.

State House Director of Communications Sean Kampondeni said Chakwera will, on July 12, launch M1 Road rehabilitation works, where resources amounting to 117 million Euros have been committed.

According to Kampondeni, Chakwera is also expected to launch the National Youth Service, where the government has set aside K20 billion for youth empowerment initiatives.

Last week, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) said hallmarks of the Tonse Alliance administration include inconsistencies, slowness and indecisiveness.

HRDC said, at the pace Malawi is developing, it will take millions of years to reach the promised land.

Meanwhile, Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (Cdedi) has echoed Chilima’s calls for the government to facilitate the removal of the President’s immunity so that he can he can stand trial should it be discovered that he has committed a crime.

In a letter to Chakwera, the organisation’s executive director Sylvester Namiwa says removing President’s immunity will signify the President’s sincerity in the fight against corruption.

“Mr President, with Section 91 of the Malawi Constitution still intact, whatever the ACB [Anti- Corruption Bureau] did at the State House means very little in the fight against corruption since, in the event that they found colossal evidence linking you to the deals, they will have to wait until you get out of office to commence criminal investigations. It is, therefore, not a sheer coincidence that most of the high-profile corruption scandals involving billions of Malawi Kwacha are deliberately connected either directly or indirectly to the office you are currently occupying.

“At this juncture Your Excellency, you will agree with Cdedi that talks about ending the endemic corruption remains political rhetoric unless presidential immunity is scrapped off in our Constitution as per your promise. We believe that you had taken cognizance of the consequences of scrapping off the presidential immunity, prior to your announcement during the campaign period that you would take this route,” the letter reads.

Namiwa said it was important that Chakwera facilitates the amendments if he is clean of any corrupt dealings.

“Your Excellency, the general feeling currently among Malawians is that, if you are clean from any corruption scandal, then there is no reason whatsoever for you to change tune on the promise you made without being forced by anyone. This simply means that, if you have nothing to hide, you will champion the amendment of Section 91 of the constitution.

“It is against this background that Cdedi, on behalf of well-meaning Malawians that also double as voters and taxpayers, is giving you Your Excellency, fourteen days to engage the Malawi Law Commission through the Attorney General’s office, to kick-start the amendment process of Section 91 of the Republican Constitution, as proof that your hands are clean, and the re-affirmation of your commitment on zero tolerance against corruption,” he said.

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