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Malawi activists to hold protest vigils

27 February 2014, 10:13

Blantyre - Rights groups in Malawi will launch anti-government protest vigils on Thursday to press for quick action after an audit revealed officials had stolen at least $30m from the state, organisers said.

"The vigil is the launching of a series of civil disobedience processes to be rolled out in Malawi," said Lucky Mbewe, spokesperson of the Grand Coalition for the Defence of Democracy and the Constitution, which represents more than 200 local and international organisations.

A much-awaited report by British auditors showed this week that $30m was stolen in six months from April to September in 2013, during President Joyce Banda's second year in office.

That equates to more than one percent of the economy in one of the world's poorest countries.

"We are demanding that parliament convene within two weeks to deliberate on the preliminary forensic audit report," Mbewe told AFP.

The first of the protests are due to take place in the commercial capital Blantyre on Thursday.

Protest organisers are demanding full disclosure of "all suspects" for the sake of "transparency and accountability".

The government has not released names of those accused in the so-called Cashgate scandal, for fear of prejudicing ongoing or future trials. There are 68 civil servants and business people already facing trial for graft.

"We want to register our concern with government's handling of Cashgate," said Mbewe.

Amid calls for Banda to resign, the rights groups are also concerned that $15m in proceeds from last year's sale of the presidential jet have "not been fully accounted for".

Aid suspended

"All we want... is to have a government that is accountable to its people," said Mbewe.

Information Minister Brown Mpinganjira said the money was used to buy military equipment and staple maize for starving Malawians.

The series of protests are aimed at pushing for a "responsive and accountable" government where leaders "rule and govern by the laws of the land without impudence and arrogance".

The protesters plan to hand a petition to government officials, who will forward it to the president, who is away for a summit in Nigeria.

But Mpinganjira suggested the coalition was being bankrolled by Western "elements who want to topple the government".

"They have destroyed Egypt and other countries, they now want to destroy Malawi," Mpinganjira told Zodiak radio.

Donors, who bankroll up to 40% of the country's budget, have suspended aid worth $150m until the poor southern African nation cleans up the financial mess.



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