Fellow Malawians, As you know, the Mutharika Administration had ordered a lockdown of the whole country, but a 7-day injunction issued by the High Court in response to a prayer from the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) put a temporary stop to it, pending a hearing. As MCP-UTM Alliance, our expectation is that by the time the week-long injunction expires and before any lockdown is executed, the Mutharika Administration will address the following five failures of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic:
- Failure to provide poor Malawians with the supplies necessary to survive a lockdown.
- Failure to support health workers and medical facilities on the frontlines of the fight.
- Failure to implement all measures to stop the spread of the virus into and across Malawi.
- Failure to comply with the laws governing the management of a national pandemic.
- Failure to secure the cooperation of Malawians based on mutual trust rather than threats.
Firstly, over the last three weeks, both Drs. Chakwera and Chilima warned that a lockdown without preparations and provisions to support poor Malawians through it would be a disaster. On April 1, a whole fortnight before Mr. Mutharika ordered a lockdown, Dr. Chakwera said that any responsible lockdown must be preceded by material and financial support to those most adversely affected by restrictions on movement and disruptions to livelihood. Similarly, on April 8, a whole week before the lockdown order, Dr. Chilima outlined the various groups that need support to survive the lockdown. Sadly, neither warning was heeded, leaving Malawians from north to south with no choice but rush to the streets to protest this glaring oversight. As we speak, the material and financial support to vulnerable and impoverished Malawians has still not been given. If any Malawians suffer hunger and loss of income due to a lockdown, it will be because the Mutharika Administration refused to heed this advice.
Secondly, it should go without saying that our hospitals and medical personnel should be given everything they need in order to ready themselves as our first line of defense against this pandemic. Tragically, what we have seen is the exact opposite, with heartbreaking reports that health workers continue to work without Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and that from an initial one million dollars in disbursements, less than 6% have been allocated to hospitals, as a lion’s share has gone to government institutions that do not even deal with disease management. In fact, we are dismayed to learn that the Minister of Finance has written to commercial banks asking for a moratorium on loan repayments for parliamentarians, yet it did not occur to him to extend this relief to nurses and doctors, who ought to even be exempted from income tax until this storm passes. Understandably, it is these acts of neglect towards health workers that have caused them to stage sit-ins and suspend health services across the country, and what government needs to do is simply act on their demands, not dismiss them as unreasonable. If any of our medical facilities and personnel are overrun by Covid-19 cases, it will be because the Mutharika Administration refused to attend to their needs.
Thirdly, it should be common sense that the four measures that medical experts around the world have found effective in stopping the spread of the virus should have been implemented in Malawi as soon as Mr. Mutharika declared a state of disaster on March 20. Remarkably, only one of the measures was implemented, namely the closure of schools and restrictions on public gatherings. The rest have largely been ignored, beginning with the closure of our borders and all points of entry. Just this week, the Ministry of Health has confirmed at least five new cases of Covid-19, two of them from abroad. Equally ignored is the provision and requirement of mandatory masks for everyone going outside their home and mandatory handwashing at all facilities. Even so, the most ignored preventive measure by far is mass testing of the populations in which cases of the virus have been confirmed, such that today, over a month after the first case was confirmed, less than 300 people across the country have been tested, leaving the virus on the loose and undetected in our midst. If the result is an explosion of infections, it will be because the Mutharika Administration refused to implement these things.
Fourthly, the reason the High Court has ordered that the State appear before a Judge to explain the legality of its actions in addressing the pandemic is because the Mutharika Administration has been playing hide and seek with the law since its declaration of a State of Disaster on March 20. Presently, two court cases scrutinizing Government’s compliance with the law in handling the crisis have already gone against the State. Even the Malawi Law Society itself has faulted the Mutharika Administration both for failing to comply with the provisions of the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act under which its declaration of disaster was made and for misapplying the provisions of the Public Health Act under which its lockdown rules were formulated. Crucially, the Mutharika Administration’s incompetence in matters of the law has once again not only landed it in trouble with the courts, but has also put it in danger of violating the Constitution, for any lockdown would involve the abrogation of people’s constitutional rights, including the right to freely and safely vote for a president of their choice in the fresh election to be held within the next 70 days as ordered by the Constitutional Court. The Constitution only allows such abrogation of rights in a State of Emergency during times of war and natural disaster, which means that for such abrogation of rights to apply to a State of Disaster, Parliament would have to first amend the Constitution or pass emergency legislation, which Government has not bothered to do, leaving the State open to lawsuits for acting ultra vires. If lawlessness and anarchy ensue in the land in the wake of this pandemic, it will be because the Mutharika Administration itself refused to comply with the law.
Fifthly, even if all these measures were in place, effective implementation thereof would require building trust with Malawians in order to secure their cooperation in the fight against coronavirus. Instead, what Malawians have been subjected to are threatening and arrogant statements from Cabinet members politicizing the pandemic by commandeering state briefings from medical experts in order to attack the opposition and bully Malawians into submission. But we stand with Malawians in insisting that those addressing them on matters of state must do so with the humility of servants, not the hubris of masters. Boma ndi la TONSE. Rev. Maurice Munthali Publicity Secretary, MCP Dr. Joseph Chidanti-Malunga Publicity Secretary, UTM