In Malawi, the political standoff between President Bingu Wa Mutharika and the opposition has taken a dramatic turn. The latest incident followed the decision by some concerned citizens to sue in the high court asking for protection of their rights to development. The citizens claim their development was being hampered by the refusal of opposition parliamentarians to approve the government’s budget. They also implored the speaker of parliament to ensure that parliamentarians consider the budget, saying the financial blue print was not a political issue but a prop of the economy, a bulwark of development, and a matter of life and death. Meanwhile the High Court is yet to set a date when application to discharge the injunction would be heard.
Mabvuto Hara is the chairman of the Malawi Law Society. From the capital, Lilongwe he tells reporter Peter Clottey that the concerned citizens have the constitutional mandate to seek to protect their rights.
“As citizens of this nation, they have the right to go to court and ask to make any orders they think they are entitled to,” Hara pointed out.
He said although there is no legal provision under the constitution that permits citizens to file a suit against the national assembly, the citizens can prevent others from trampling upon their rights as guaranteed in the constitution.
“Not necessarily in this particular circumstances. The rights that the citizens have are that, if the citizens think that a fundamental right or freedom guaranteed by the constitution has been infringed, the citizen is entitled to make an application to court to enforce or protect that rights of the citizen. In this particular case, the citizens who are reported to have gone to court are saying the national assembly is breaking their rights to development by failing to approve the budget,” he said.
Hara explains the action he said the High Court could take based on the citizen’s suit.
“If on the fact as presented before the court the court is of the view that the right to development as alleged by the citizens has in fact been violated, then the court can make an appropriate order to enforce that right. What the citizens are saying is that the national assembly is violating their rights to development by refusing to approve the budget. So an appropriate order then would be to require the national assembly to consider and approve the budget,” he noted.
Hara said the tension in the country is, in his words, political.
“I think first of all it has to be appreciated that the deadlock is not strictly speaking a constitutional problem. It is a political problem,” Hara said.
He expatiated on what the Malawi Law Society could do to help solve the political impasse between the government and the opposition.
“As a law society we have perhaps the ability to provide some kind of mediation, to assist the two parties to come together, discuss matters and pursue a common goal in the interest of the people of Malawi… in practice we would have to determine on the best approach who we would think should be the first party to be approached and see if we can succeed in persuading them to come to a discussion, and see whether we were able to succeed in persuading the other party to come to the discussion also,” he said.