By Duncan Mlanjira
President Peter Mutharika has released 21 names that make up the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, that replaces the Special Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 that was set up on March 7.
The Task Force, to be reporting directly to the President, has two co-chairpersons, Dr. John Phuka of the College of Medicine and Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamveka.
Minister of Health, Jappie Mhango, who led the Special Cabinet Committee is just a member, together with other ministers from Disaster Management Affairs & Public Events; Justice & Constitutional Affairs and Information, Civic Education & Communications Technology.
Other ministers include Local Government & Rural Development; Gender, Child Development & Community Development; Labour, Skills & Innovation and Population Planning & Social Welfare.
Other members are chairperson of Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Monsignor Dr. Patrick Thawale; Prince Kapondamgaga (president of Malawi Confederation Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) and Lobin Lowe, MCP Member of Parliament for Lilongwe Central — who is Leader of the Opposition in the august House.
Senior Chief Lukwa represents Chiefs Council; Innocencia Chirombo — Executive Director, Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM) — to represent health services in the private sector while Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) is represented by Executive Director, George Jobe.
Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) has Luther Mambala President as a member, followed by Rev. Patrick Semphere — chairperson of Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).
Executive Director of Council for Non-Governmental Organizations in Malawi (CONGOMA), Voice Mhone is also a member as well as Makbul Latif representing Asian Business Community COVID-19 Taskforce and Dr. Robert Egolet, Country Director for Peking University Global Health Research, Development and Training Bureau.
The Special Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 was effected before the President declared a state of disaster and its mandate included:
• Receiving updates on COVID-19 and ensure that the same is relayed to Malawians;
• To recommend proactive measures to prevent the occurrence and subsequent spread of corona virus in Malawi. At that moment Malawi had not have any registered case of COVID-19;
• To provide oversight for Cross-Government initiatives against the COVID- 19 threat; and
• To facilitate implementation of activities aimed at mitigating the impact of the disease on the social-economic development of the country.
However, Malawi Law Society (MLS) month considered that any decision, initiative or action taken by the Special Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 after 20 March 2020 (technically from 3 April 2020) with regard to ‘Civil Protection’ on Coronavirus is without legal authority, or put differently, without any lawful excuse.
MLS, in its Legal Guidance Paper on Management of COVID-19 Disaster, contends that the Ministers in the special cabinet committee are not members of the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Committee of Malawi.
And until an amendment is made to the law several ministries are not on the membership of the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Committee including the Ministries of: Industry and Trade; Education, Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Homeland Security.
“The only responsibility of the Special Cabinet Committee after 20 March 2020 is to advise the President with respect to Government policies on Coronavirus, or Covid-19 and such matters relating to it as the President may refer to the Special Cabinet Committee on COVID-19,” said the paper.