Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa has accused President Lazarus Chakwera of playing double standards in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic by imposing restrictions that he vehemently opposed when he was in the opposition.
On Friday last week, Malawi Government, through the Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda gazetted new measures for the Prevention, Containment and Management of Coronavirus, which include the introduction of mandatory wearing of face masks in public and banning public gathering of groups of more than 10 people.
Under the gazetted measures, failure to wear a face mask will be attracting a fine of K10, 000 and a gathering of more than 10 people will be attracting a fine of K100, 000.
However, the latest development has angered Nankhumwa who has accused the Chakwera led administration of hypocrisy, saying it has disregarded the heartbeat of people it pretends to serve.
Nankhumwa said the opposition expected the current regime to come up with short and medium term policy interventions to cushion people’s suffering before framing and gazetting the harsh and unrealistic Covid-19 measures.
“It is our belief that the new measures are a clear demonstration of how hypocritical the new government is over the plight of Malawians. Based only on political expediency, President Chakwera vehemently opposed these similar measures his government is imposing on the people today,” he said.
Nankhumwa then reminded Chakwera of how he, together with the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), reacted to the decision by the the then ruling Democratic Progressive Party to impose a 21-day lockdown on the country as a measure to prevent the further spread of the virus, which included travel restrictions across the country and a ban of public gatherings for groups of more than 100 people.
“The country erupted in arms against these measures, resulting in opposition-led mass demonstrations against the measures. Among the sticking points for the demonstrators that time was that Malawi is an informal economy with many people literally living from hand to mouth.
“Those against the lockdown argue that the government must first distribute money or other life essentials to underprivileged and most vulnerable families in order to cushion against the effects of the lockdown and cover up for the lost time that people would spend staying in their homes as a result of the lockdown,” Nankhumwa said.
He further reminded government that despite having a new regime, poverty remains a challenge in the country and it is absurd to think that Malawians can hardly afford to buy a face mask at K500 and then expect them to pay a fine of up to K10, 000.
“It is an open secret that there is pervasive poverty across the country and it is wrong to think that suddenly Malawians have become rich to afford a face mask, costing in the region of K599 above each let alone pay a K10, 000 fine for not wearing one. When one moves around public places in towns and villages is when they become acutely aware that it will be a huge challenge to make everyone wear a face mask in public.
“It is, therefore, ridiculous to expect the same people who can hardly afford a K500 face mask to afford a fine of up to K10 000 for failing to wear one in public. It is a simple fact that a lot of Malawians will not comply with this measure because they simply don’t have money to buy the masks,” he said.
He then hit at the people who framed and gazetted the new by-laws, saying they have no idea of how Malawians are struggling.
“It is our strong view that the people who were at the centre of framing and gazetting these by-laws lack the necessary knowledge of the daily struggles of most Malawians. What is also means is that the Tonse Alliance administration, led by President Chakwera, simply disregards the heartbeat of the people it pretends to serve,” he added.
Nankhumwa believes that government should have thought of distributing the masks for free to the poor people before imposing the mandatory wearing of masks in public.
According to the statement, there is no reconciliation in the fines that have been imposed by government.
“We also believe that the litany of fines for non-compliance does not make much sense. There is a fine if K100, 000 for an assembly of more than 50 people at a funeral and a K10, 000 for an assembly of more than 10 people at a church or prayer gathering whether outside or inside an enclosure. Can someone say how these fines reconcile? Does that mean more than 10 people can assemble and not contract Coronavirus because it is a funeral unless they are 50? Indeed, one wonders who would be responsible for paying the imposes fine of K100 000 at a funeral,” reads part of the statement.
Nankhumwa has since asked government to come up with a more creative and relevant win-win framework upon consulting relevant stakeholders on how to enact a proper and right framework to fight Covid-19 pandemic instead of taking the ‘lone-wolf’ approach like it has done.
“While we welcome the recent announcement by Minister of Health Honourable Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda that the government will engage religious leaders in further consultations, we belie that the government should cast its net wider and include other equally important stakeholders that are adversely affected by the new order.
“For example, the government should come up with a more creative and relevant win-win framework for the education sector to ensure that children are also getting a semblance of education considering that they have gone almost the whole year without entering a physical classroom. Indeed, we believe that there is a need for the Tonse Alliance government to come up with a tailor-made approach to deal with children’s education in the context of Covid-19,” said the statement.
He also advised government to put all health workers, especially the Covid-19 frontline personnel and their direct family members on reasonable health insurance and ensure adequate availability of Personal Protective Equipment for health workers.
Nankhumwa then commended the frontline health workers for their selflessness and strength in saving lives and helping the country flatten the curve.
The pandemic has registered 4714 cases from which 2085 are active cases with 2477 recoveries and 152 fatalities.