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CDEDI, LL Vendors Threaten Demos Against Chimwendo Banda for Overruling Councils’ Resolution on Immigrant Traders in Cities

By Watipaso Mzungu

Chimwendo: Under Fire

The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) and the Lilongwe Small Scale Business Operators (LSCBO) have given the Tonse Alliance-led government 14 days to flush out illegal immigrants who are plying various businesses in the country’s cities or face a nationwide demonstrations.

Speaking at a press briefing held in Lilongwe on Monday morning, CDEDI executive director, Sylvester Namiwa, accusedthe the foreign nationals of threatening the survival of local traders because of their unprofessional business ethics.

Namiwa demanded immediate solutions to illegal immigrants, challenges that have characterized the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) and the looming hunger in Malawi.

He said apart from monitoring the developments on the ground, CDEDI has also been receiving a lot of Save Our Souls (SOS) messages from Malawians of all walks of life from across the country, calling for the intervention.

“CDEDI is in possession of letter from LSCBO), appealing to CDEDI to intervene on the decision by the Homeland Security Minister Hon. Richard Chimwendo Banda who they claim has overruled a decision for all the foreign nationals that are operating businesses illegally in the City of Lilongwe, as well as in the rural areas, to wind up their trade and relocate to their proper places, in compliance with the laws of Malawi, which demand that all the foreigners be in possession of residence permits and business licenses.

According to a letter to the CDEDI from the LSCBO, dated November 20, 2020, there is an influx of foreign nationals in Lilongwe who came into the country as asylum seekers, but have bolted from their refugee camps and are doing all sorts of businesses in the city.

The letter further claims that some foreign nationals applied for business licenses as investors, but have ended up doing small scall businesses in the city and in some rural areas,” he said.

According to the complainants, who also attended the press briefing, this is total deceit, and they are appealing to CDEDI to intervene on the matter.

Namiwa further said the concerned businesspeople mobilized themselves and engaged the authorities starting with Traditional/Block leaders up to the Ministry of Homeland headquarters via the city and district councils.

“CDEDI has evidence of these meetings, one of which was an all-inclusive stakeholders meeting which, was held on 2nd June 2020 where a resolution was made to have all the illegal business operators who were contravening both the Immigration Act and the Investment and Export Promotion Act (2002) relocated to their proper places such as their countries of origin or the refugee camps within 90 days.

This decision is contained in a letter CDEDI has in its possession, dated 3rd June 2020 under the heading “FOREIGNERS OPERATING SMALL SCALE BUSINESSESIN LILONGWE,’’ signed by the Lilongwe City Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mr. John Chome and the Lilongwe District Commissioner Dr. Lawford Palani; copied to the Commissioner for Refugees-Lilongwe; the Regional Immigration Officer-Centre; Secretary for Trade-Ministry of Trade; the Inspector General of the Malawi Police Service; Secretary for Local Government; the National Intelligence Service; and the Small Business Concerned Citizens themselves that were all available at the meeting held on 2ndJune 2020,” narrated Namiwa.

He added that the resolution coincided with the court-sanctioned June 23rd, 2020 Fresh Presidential Elections (FPE) that subsequently saw the change in governments from the immediate past governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to the Tonse Alliance government, which also heralded change at the Ministry of Homeland Security from Nicholas Dausi to Chimwendo Banda.

He said the concerned small scale business people, at their first follow-up meeting with the Homeland Security Ministry, which also brought together the same stakeholders, it was noted that Chimwendo Banda pushed the blame on the immigration and the police for failing to do their job, and further pledged to do the job in seven days, only to change tune later as he told the concerned citizens that, due to change in government policy, the earlier directive that was made on 3rd June was automatically overruled.

“We at CDEDI, are very suspicious with the sudden change of tune on the part of the Hon. Chimwendo Banda and we demand an immediateprobe by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB)on this matter. Secondly, we don’t think that the change in government meant an outrightchange, suspension, or amendment of the two acts,” said the CDEDI boss.

He went on to say that prior to this, the concerned businesspeople wrote Traditional Authority (T/A) Tsabango on 18th February 2020, raising a concern that the foreign nationals were denying the indigenous businesspeople access to the already limited economic opportunities that were available in their localities.

Secondly, the concerns also bordered on issues to do with security, since the identities of the foreign nationals were not clearly known, as some might have been involved in criminal actsor civil war in their countries of origin; or they might be using Malawi as a transit route for human trafficking and change of identities to other countries.

Thirdly, the letter highlighted some unfair trading practices that Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) applies; the Malawi Police Service (MPS); traditional leaders whom the letter alleges that these law enforcement agencies givethe foreign nationals preferential business treatment.

The letter further alleges that there is externalization of foreign currency by these foreign nationals who are reportedly shunning commercial banks and are in the process sending out money to their countries of originusing informal means.

“It is important at this stage to point out that CDEDI fully appreciates and supports the universality of human rights, including the rights of displaced citizens, refugees and asylum seekers and other minority groups. Having critically, looked at the concerns brought forward by the business community in Lilongwe City, CDEDI undertook a fact-finding mission and established the following:

1.Some foreign nationals came into the country as investors, while others came as refugees and asylum seekers especially from China, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and Nigeria, but they are mostly involved in small scale businesses that ordinarily are supposed to be for the preserve of the locals, for example selling shoes and groceries; baking fritters (Mandasi);

2.The role of the Immigration Department has been reduced to issuance of passports only since they have literally ignored their duty of flushing out illegal immigrants as per the laws of Malawi;

3. Security agencies seem to be favouring illegal immigrants as they offer them protection; “The findings above have created a situation where the natives have had all their existing opportunities taken away and wherever they have tried they are exposed to very unfair trading practices,” narrated Namiwa.

He emphasized that although Malawi adopted aliberalized economy, it is worth noting that the country has laws that were deliberately put in place to protectits citizens to fully enjoy their right to economic activities. According to the Investment and Export Promotion Act and the Immigration Act, all foreign investors and business operators in Malawi are required to obtain valid investment certificates; business licenses; business permits; and visas before establishing their businesses in Malawi.

The laws also restrict the investors to the country’s four cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba and Blantyre and municipals of Kasungu and Luchenza as designated areas where they can ply their trade.

In the case of refugees and asylum seekers, they are supposed to stay at the camp except in circumstances where they are seeking medical treatment. Namiwa said it is against this background that CDEDI is challenging President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera and his Tonse Alliance government to quickly intervene on the matter before the situation gets out of hand, in the spirit of compliance and honouring the administration’s campaign promise to strictly abide by the rule of law.

“We expect Dr. Chakwera to take to task his Homeland Security minister, Hon. Chimwendo-Banda, who has suspiciously overruled a directive that was dully signed by the Lilongwe City authorities to have all the foreign nationals conducting businesses illegally in the city to be relocated to their proper places.

CDEDI expects Dr. Chakwera to take action within fourteen (14) workingdays. Failure to take heed of this appeal will leave the CDEDI with no choice but to join the Small-Scale Business Operators inbtheir planned national wide demonstrations, in their quest to seek justice even further,” he said.

He also expressed concern over chaos marring the Tonse government’s dream AIP, which he described as a torture on the poor. Namiwa alleged that sentiments by the government about network frustrating smooth implementation of the programme are a mere cover up.

Namiwa said their investigation had revealed that Malawi currently doesnot have enough stocks of the much-needed fertilizer, and that the government is deliberating creating some bottlenecks such as network hitchesto save its battered face.

Chimwendo Banda did not respond to our questionnaire when we sought his reaction to the matter.

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