Mr. Speaker, Sir, I am pleased to respond to the State of the Nation address delivered in this august house by Her Excellency the President Dr Joyce Banda at the opening of the 44th Session on the 8th February 2013.
On behalf of Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, the President of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the entire DPP, I wish to convey a happy New Year to you Mr. Speaker, Sir, and all Honourable Members of the House and to the entire nation although it is hard for many Malawians to show their happiness because of poverty and hardships created by the devaluation and floatation of the Kwacha which has resulted in rampant inflation and high interest rate at the Banks.
Mr Speaker, Sir, allow me to commence by congratulating the State President for delivering the National Address in this august house at this opportune time. However, with regard to the essence of the speech of the President, The DPP has deep reservations:
First of all, a greater part of the speech is filled with empty rhetoric and self-glorification which is a mockery to the suffering Malawians. There is not much by way of new ideas in the speech to give hope to the Malawians out there. It also lacks acknowledgement of the misery experienced by Malawians due to the economic policies of the past nine months. Moreover, what has been stated is not in tandem with what is happening on the ground. For example, the State President on page 5 is calling upon Malawians to work together.
The fact of the matter is that the Head of State has dismissed competent men and women of substance who were associated with the late Bingu’s administration. Most of those dismissed are being paid huge compensation in settlement for unlawful dismissal at the expense of the poor tax payer and funds which could have been utilized to buy drugs in hospitals or teaching and learning materials.
The State President spoke in glowing terms about the role being played by her Government in promoting rule of law and good governance. It is possible that the President was not properly advised on the issue involving her appointment of the Vice President to be responsible for the Malawi Electoral Commission. This was seen by most Malawians as a desperate attempt on the part of the PP to rig the tripartite elections of 2014. As we are aware, this appointment was withdrawn following public outcry.
Similarly, the DPP is of the view that the State President should not have given herself the responsibility of overseeing the operations of Central Government Stores and Government Printers taking into account that the two bodies are crucial to the electoral process. Another incident involved the prisoner in Zomba who was pardoned because of being related to those in power. As it is known, this led prisoners to riot and it has been reliably learnt that some of the rioting prisoners were killed. The DPP is calling for an inquiry to investigate this incident. These actions indicate that the government is not committed to the rule of law and good governance.
Moreover, Mr Speaker Sir, contrary to what is stated by the State President in her speech on page 37 about Media Freedom, this administration is threatening media freedom. For example, recently, it arrested a journalist of the Malawi Voice, and the courts found no evidence of wrongdoing on his part. It is obvious Mr Speaker Sir, that Government will pay millions of taxpayers’ money to compensate for the wrongful arrest. This is not good governance. On the same media, the current trend of this government is that the opposition is not given any coverage on State Broadcasters MBC radio and Malawi Television contrary to what the State President stated in her inaugural speech.
It is also known that progress is not being made on issues relating to section 65 primarily because there is lack of political will.
This government is violating human rights especially the socioeconomic rights of Malawians who are wallowing in economic hardships. The youth cannot get jobs, the elderly cannot find employment, and isn’t this an abuse of socioeconomic rights? What more with everyday increases in commodity prices. This too is tantamount to human rights violations under this PP administration. The movement of beds from Mponela to Mzimba is another violation of health rights. The increase in robberies and lack of security is yet another violation of human rights under this government.
The State President talks about a Malawi with equitable benefits. In reality, the economic policies adopted by this administration are merely making the rich get richer while the poor are getting poorer. Although the IMF predicts that the Malawi economy will grow by 5.5 per cent at the end of 2013, this economic growth will likely benefit wealthy people while the majority, most of whom are poor people, will not benefit much from such economic growth.
Malawians cannot access the much talked about benefits of the massive devaluation and currency floatation of the Malawi Kwacha. Malawians continue to suffer more price increases through the automatic fuel and electricity tariff mechanisms. Just about 48 hours ago, fuel prices increased again by K100.00 per litre and people have to pay over K704 for a litre of petrol. Mr Speaker, Sir, where is this government taking the country to? Do you turn around an economy by increasing fuel prices? In whose interest is the economic recovery? Certainly it’s not for ordinary Malawians.
Comparing this speech to the previous speech delivered by the State President on 22nd May 2012, one which was a copycat of the late President Bingu’s vision, at least there was an element of vision in that speech even though much of what she promised to do was never pursued. In this speech, however, there is total lack of vision. The nation expected for instance, that she would deal with the issue of flotation of the Kwacha and other topical issues which require immediate intervention as well as long term perspective. We need a policy that will lead to a stable currency to reduce inflation and foster private investment.
Secondly, we have taken note in the speech that the State President mentioned the successes of the economic recovery program (ERP) established by the Government. However, the DPP finds a lot of contradictions within the ERP and the recovery plan begs the question: Recovery for whom? In whose interests are the economic reforms? This is because the economic policies under the current administration are subjecting the people to even more hardships. People’s wages and salaries are losing value daily due to rampant inflation occasioned by the currency floatation. This is due to the fact that the devaluation was not backed by adequate forex reserves as was originally being negotiated by the DPP administration. For example, it is a pity that our import cover, which is the amount of dollars needed by the country to import goods and services, is less than 1 month. A free floating currency amidst very low forex reserves is a recipe for economic disaster, and Mr Speaker, Sir, I am afraid, but this government appears to be paralysed by the present economic challenges.
Worse still, Mr. Speaker, this PP administration has lied to Malawians that it would negotiate a cushion from the donors against the devaluation. Now, Malawians are being misled because the so called social protection programs which are outlined on pages 10 and 11 of the State President’s speech, are simply a continuation of the social support package introduced by the DPP. Let me ask Mr. Speaker, Is fertilizer subsidy a new program? Is the public works programme a new program? Is school feeding a new program introduced by PP? Is the social cash transfer a new initiative introduced by the PP? We all know these programmes were introduced long before the PP.
Mr Speaker, Sir, the DPP is convinced that this country is being ruled by foreign agents and this administration doesn’t seem to care. There is literally no cushion against the devaluation and the floatation of the Kwacha. Moreover, the K300 given under public works programme is less than 1 dollar, and the devaluation is making a mockery of payments to the beneficiaries.
The Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) is not a costed strategy and is not backed by a comprehensive resource envelope for achieving intended results. The ERP therefore relies on the funds set aside in the 2012/13 budget. However, such funds are losing real value on account of the devaluation and frequent commodity and service price increases. Weak linkages between the ERP and the budget imply weak implementation of the recovery plan and this will result in a slow, painful economic recovery. Mr Speaker, Sir, that is why the DPP affirms that both the PP and its ERP are not credible.
The ERP has also reduced the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) priorities which were the brain child of the DPP to five from the original nine. The reductionist approach takes away the balance between economic growth and poverty reduction. This is because key priorities in the social sectors have been excluded among the ERP priorities. For example, education, health, water, HIV and AIDS. That is why the DPP always says that the ERP is not for the benefit of ordinary Malawians. The ERP is there simply to benefit foreigners and the already rich Malawians.
The ERP lacks ownership since it is a product of a top-down process. Awareness of the ERP at the local government level is limited and this has a negative implication. Mr Speaker, Sir, people are excluded from knowledge of the ERP deliberately to allow foreign companies to dominate and overshadow local entrepreneurs. It’s not surprising Mr Speaker nowadays to see local indigenous entrepreneurs crying foul. They cannot supply stationery to government offices anymore. They are not paid in good time anymore. Big tenders are awarded to foreign companies. Is this really economic recovery?
Private companies are still struggling to pay their import bills. Is this economic recovery? The rise in cost of living has also affected companies whose cost of operations are rising everyday including rising electricity tariffs. Water bills have doubled. The prices of raw materials have tripled. Interest rates are over 40 per cent in the commercial banks. Do you call this recovery? Mr. Speaker Sir, this government is like a ship without a rudder, and the most honourable thing for them is to step aside before they do further damage.
The State President has mentioned on pages 7 and 8 of her speech, macro-economic stability measures which have been introduced. However, she has failed to take into account the rising inflation as well as the increase in interest rates and the rising domestic debt. The other contradiction is reflected in the manner in which over-expenditures are becoming the norm including that of the State House. We are observing widespread overspending and lack of fiscal prudence being practiced by the current administration. More public funds have been spent on local and external travel. Mr Speaker, Sir, does it make any sense for one to waste K12 million every day to distribute flour worth less than K2 million? Does it make sense for one to throw parties for chiefs and PP supporters when the rest of the people are struggling to make ends meet? Mr. Speaker, Sir, surely it does not make sense and this is a sign of leadership crisis – as I have just stated – a ship without a rudder.
Thirdly, while she has applauded the 17th January event as the triumph for democracy, what she failed to take into account is the fact that there were anti-democratic tendencies which were being deployed by the same actors who are now part and parcel of this Government. For example, this administration wasted public resources by deploying troops of vendors, chiefs and youth to stop the demonstrations and were falsely paraded on the public broadcaster MBC to mislead viewers. Taxpayers money was abused in the process of silencing critics involved in the 17th January demonstrations.
The State President was also silent in her speech on how the Government will address the issues raised in the Civil Society Petition. What the Malawi Nation was given to understand is that instead of responding to the 17th January petition, the PP administration continues with its arrogance and insensitivity to the current oppressive economic environment by continuing to travel excessively as well as failing to manage inflation which is daily subjecting people to severe hardships. Furthermore, the State President’s refusal to declare her assets as required by law.
Fourthly, while we appreciate that some teachers will be considered for promotion, there is no real consideration for the fate of other civil servants who are equally experiencing hardships as a result of poor management of the economy which has significantly reduced the purchasing power of salaries. According to research by Centre for Social Concern, the cost of living is now over K80, 000 per month yet the majority of civil servants get far less than this, and their salaries can only buy a few items compared with what they could buy with the same salary during the DPP administration. It is for this reason that we are now witnessing the on-going strike by civil servants. The DPP would also like to caution and forewarn all workers that any increment which their employers may promise them will not translate into real purchasing power due to rampant inflation occasioned by the reckless floatation of the Kwacha by this government.
Fifthly, the State President has given no direction on how her administration will address the problems existing in the sector of tertiary education especially at this time when University of Malawi has a deficit of 1.6 billion Kwacha and if this is not paid there is a possibility of closure. Mzuzu University is also experiencing similar problems. Furthermore, we passed a Bill here for the establishment of the Malawi University of Science and Technology at Ndata in Thyolo. There was much hope from the students who have just sat the MSCE that they will be admitted to this state of the art university. Regrettably, we are now told that even though the university is about to be completed, the Government claims that they do not have funds to pay for equipment and would like to request funding from the same donor. The question is to what extent and for how long will this Government take us into external dependence. Is it not time for us to pay some of these recurrent costs on our own?
Sixthly, Mr Speaker, Sir as if all these blunders are not enough, on the question of agriculture, Malawians were waiting to hear from the State President what actually happened in the agriculture sector especially on the farm input subsidy program, since for the first time, instead of fertilizer, some farmers received sand. This is shameful, Mr Speaker, Sir, very shameful. It is also claimed that the fertilizer subsidy benefitted 1,544,400 smallholder farmers. The fact of the matter is that a good number of the intended beneficiaries did not benefit at all. Most of them are still holding the coupons and the sad part is that most of these are Malawians who live in strongholds of the opposition parties. We wonder Mr Speaker, Sir, why some markets in Zomba should have overflowing stocks of fertilizer even as we speak right now. Is it because the State President comes from that area? We need answers to these inequities.
Related to this Mr Speaker Sir, this august house approved a fertilizer allocation for 1,500,000 beneficiaries which has now been increased further. While we appreciate the increased numbers, in the interest of transparency the Head of State would have told us who are those extra beneficiaries, who identified the beneficiaries and who approved the additional funds. In addition, we are not convinced that the additional number of beneficiaries can account for the over expenditure from K40.8 billion to K57 billion. Is this the fertilizer which staff at State House and church leaders has been receiving when they are not necessarily poor? The Government must provide a detailed statement of accountability to this house on the increased beneficiaries.
Additionally, on the issue of agriculture, the State President alarmed the Malawi Nation by stating that there was shortage of maize in the country and proceeded to make an appeal to the United Nations. Contrary to her pronouncements, the UNDP and USAID have confirmed that there is no shortage of maize in the country. Even the Minister of Agriculture confirmed that there was no shortage of maize. It goes without saying that the food being distributed is from the grain reserves or silos built by the DPP administration even though the bags of maize are being personalized in order to gain political mileage.
Finally, Mr Speaker, Sir, on the issue of fight against corruption. We have noted with interest the State President remarks that her administration will not cover up for anyone irrespective of their status in society in the fight against corruption. We are therefore, surprised that those who were involved in the transportation of fertilizer subsidy program were those close to the PP Government. It is our view, Mr. Speaker, that there is now rampant corruption. For example cases are being settled outside court involving huge sums and implicating some senior PP officials. Furthermore, those benefitting from the food distribution are also those close to the PP Government. Some even receive this ferlizer subsidy from the State House to buy favours and this is a form of corruption. The current shortage of drugs is also due to corruption and theft which needs to be seriously investigated.
In the Energy Sector, Mr Speaker, as already indicated, it is a pity that this administration has increased the price of electricity. It is also a pity that they continue to blame the DPP on each and every failure on their part. Recently, reports have surfaced that there is what is called ESCOM II, a group of people that are doing illegal connections in the name of ESCOM. Are these because of DPP? Blackouts have even more than increased and load-shedding happens sometimes twice per day. Is this because of DPP? Regarding the energy sector proposals, this house should see a sound cost benefit analysis so that we can verify that Malawi will be a net beneficiary. Let the people of Malawi come first in everything. The PP tends to bow too much to the wishes of foreign players.
In conclusion, it is felt that the speech of the State President has failed to meet the expectation of the people. The speech does not inspire hope towards a true economic recovery as Malawians are being taken many years backwards. Mr. Speaker, Sir, this economy is like a rudderless ship. We all know that without a rudder, a ship wanders aimlessly and eventually runs aground.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :