Mr. Speaker Sir, on behalf of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and other legislative opposition parties, and indeed on behalf of the Malawian people whom I have the honour of representing here today, I would like to thank you for according me this opportunity to respond to the statement by His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi, which he made on 6th November 2015 on the occasion of opening this 46th Session of Parliament.
Mr Speaker Sir, let me begin by registering my sadness at the death of Honorable Chizalo Peter Mangulenje, who until his time of death was a Member of Parliament for Zomba Chisi.
More recently, our nation also lost Honorable Dr. George Nga Ntafu, who had dedicated his life to serving Malawians as both a neurosurgeon and a public servant. And just yesterday, we lost Hon. Tasokwa Msiska, former MP for Rumphi North.
These are incalculable losses for our nation, and with your indulgence Mr Speaker Sir, I would like to ask all Members of this House to join me in standing for a moment of silence to honor their memory.
May their souls rest in peace.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the theme of my address today is SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: A Better Malawi Demands a Better Plan under Better Leadership.
President Mutharika began by declaring that “Malawi is at a very critical stage”. This is an incontrovertible fact. No amount of propaganda against the opposition and no amount of misinformation against our citizens will change this fact. So if the President truly agrees with the rest of us that Malawi is a patient in critical condition, he should not have used the rest of his address to sugarcoat the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in, nor should he have ended it without laying out an overarching plan of action that all Malawians can rally behind to bring the country out of its slump.
The President‟s failure to take full stock of the state of the country’s economy, food situation, security, social welfare, governance and other national issues is an insult to the Malawians that employed him to say how bad things are and what he is doing about it. Even if he decided that it was too early to give a proper State of the Nation address given that his last one was only six months ago, Malawians deserve to hear a full report on the progress being made on the multitude of promises he claimed his government was fulfilling when he stood here in May.
We sat here listening to the President and hoping against hope to see a clear signal of leadership. We waited with baited breath to hear that he has heeded and acted on the lamentations of Malawians regarding the extravagance of his trips; the slowness of his administration in securing justice for Malawians in all Cash-gate related cases; or the duplicity of his government in the give-away sale of Malawians‟ heritage in Malawi Savings Bank.
The President did not think it worth his while to tell us of any steps being taken to address the plight of Malawians whose livelihoods were recently destroyed by strong winds and rains in Mzimba, in Dowa, in Salima, and in Kasungu where one Malawian died, five were hospitalized, and dozens were left homeless. He offered no indication to Malawians that he knows the disservice Malawians are receiving in our hospitals; that Malawians in some districts have already started sleeping on empty stomachs; or that many of our people have no seeds to plant this year; or that the teachers and doctors we paid to educate are now languishing in unemployment.
Malawians tuned in to the President’s address to hear his rationale for unilaterally hiking school fees to levels that lock millions of young people out of education; or a justification for his decision to remove Standard Eight and Junior Certificates without consultation; or a progress report on the status of the forensic report on the 577 billion kwacha that remains unaccounted for from the previous DPP administration; or a plan of action to address the acts of arson that are burning our markets.
Malawians listened to their President for a sign of relief from the policy decisions that are hurting them, like a plan to end his failure to keep the IMF‟s Extended Credit Facility from going off-track as it is now, but the President had nothing to say. The one positive from the President‟s address is that it only lasted 23 minutes, so at least he was kind enough to not take too much of our time with his Zero Plan Speech.
To be frank, Mr Speaker Sir, the President’s speech avoided so many national issues that it is almost impossible to find anything of substance to respond to. So, Mr Speaker Sir, we are now officially a nation in the unenviable position of having a government with no plan, and a President who claims that he has a “national agenda” or “National Development Strategy” without ever telling us what it is or what part ordinary Malawians should play in it. Mr Speaker Sir, let it be written in the Hansard that for the first time ever, under the wise and pragmatic leadership of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), we are not only financially bankrupt, but also bankrupt of sound policies and plans to move Malawi into a prosperous nation.
So, Mr Speaker Sir, because the President has failed to set the record straight about the poor performance of the country and his leadership, I stand here to do it. Because his government has no plan by which to call Malawians to actions that will get us out of this mess, we must all put our heads together here to offer him ideas. We simply cannot afford to let the ship we are sailing on to sink in these troubled economic waters simply because the captain does not know the way to our destiny or how to navigate troubled waters. We cannot afford to let the Executive, with its 20 strong cabinet plus a congregation of 20 plus so-called advisors, leave our children at the mercy of its endless comedy of errors. It is unfortunate that the people have no means to fire the whole administration, and indeed a wonder that the whole lot has not resigned. After all, Mr Speaker Sir, not only are they failing to solve our problems, but they themselves have become a problem!
Mr Speaker Sir, Malawians were told that 2015 will be a great year, that the economy will rebound, but do we see this greatness on the streets today? Do Malawians feel the rebound at the market? Do they feel it in the minibuses? What about at the hospital? What about at the farm? What about in the rest of the social sectors? Where is the comprehensive assessment of how the nation is doing in all these sectors? Where is the outline of the short, medium, and long term policies and strategies the Executive proposes for this House‟s consideration and debate to address the suffering of Malawians?
The Executive may think that avoiding to say how bad things are will make Malawians think that their lives are getting better, but this is a fool’s errand, and this House will not allow you to bury your heads in the sand like this. Let’s talk about how things are falling apart.
Take the hunger situation, for example. We need to know if the monies allocated by Parliament as well as the help from Development Partners and NGOs, require that immediate adjustments be made so that truly no Malawian dies.
Where are the maize stocks? Where has distribution started? What about the shortfall from the estimated budget?
I would like to appeal to our donors to consider most of the help to be in kind and not cash which is prone to abuse.
With inflation rising from 23% in September 2015 to 24.1% for October, 2015, most Malawians are failing to afford basic necessities. External shocks have exacerbated macroeconomic instability, and the Government’s lack of fiscal discipline has only made things worse. Inflation looks set to accelerate due to the depreciating Malawi Kwacha and consumers and importers of key production inputs are suffering greatly.
Is this the President’s idea of RESILIENCE? Does building resilience mean that the people should accept suffering without any end in sight? Does building resilience mean that there should be a section of the population that should continue suffering for the cluelessness of the Executive? Does building resilience mean that the people should pay the price for the President’s failure to engage Development Partners by resolving outstanding bottlenecks?
Mr Speaker Sir, how can the President repeatedly claim that the age of donor aid is over when he also repeatedly complains about the lack of direct budget support and repeatedly acknowledges the impact of the aid our development partners are giving through other channels in the country. Mr Speaker
Sir, what is over is not the age of donor aid, but the age of donor aid being given to people who cannot be trusted. This President has given our development partners no confidence that he can cut down spending, or balance the budget, or get rid of waste, or crack down on criminal acts of greed and corruption perpetrated in the government of his own party.
That is why he cannot make a case for direct budget support.
But if the Government won’t make the case for the ordinary Malawians, who will? If the President won’t make a case for the Malawian people before this August House, where does he plan to do it?
STATE OF THE ECONOMY
Mr Speaker Sir, Allow me now to reflect on the state of the economy since our last budget sitting. Whilst we agree that in the medium to long term we should depend on ourselves for government revenue, there is no tangible evidence on the ground that we are building the requisite productive capacity.
We are all aware that the future of this country depends on the private sector becoming a reliable and sustainable source of tax revenue. But sadly, the Executive continues to stifle the private sector, depriving it of the much needed liquidity to boost the economy.
Mr Speaker Sir, by end of June 2015 only K10 billion out of the estimated K157 billion owed to the private sector in the form of arrears had been repaid. Meanwhile, the zero coupon bonds which government undertook to issue to the private sector creditors are taking ages to materialize.
At any rate, the private sector is already losing out as they have to discount them with the commercial banks despite the fact that the value of the credit has already been lost throughtime. The question all this raises is: if the President wont do the needful to restore the trust of our development partners,how will he make up for the lost revenue when his policies are killing private sector jobs and productivity? Why is the President determined to cut the only economic branch alawians are sitting on just to have firewood for his own warmth?
Mr. Speaker Sir, instead of building productive capacity to generate adequate revenues in future, the Executive is busy building consumption capacity – continuing with its expansion of such consumption avenues as the Malata and Cement Subsidy. Who in their right mind increases consumption when productivity is shrinking? Besides, when are we going to open our eyes to see that knee-jerk subsidy programs are the most vulnerable to abuse? Mr Speaker Sir, the President said that 80 beneficiaries in the Malata and Cement Subsidy have been identified per constituency in all the 193 constituencies.
Many questions arise: What were the criteria for selecting the beneficiaries? What parameters did they use? Who selected those beneficiaries? Hindsight teaches us that these kinds of programs are ill-advised, ill-devised, and ill-executed.
Mr. Speaker Sir, I do not mean to suggest that Malawians do not deserve better housing, but there is a better way to increase access to such amenities. We in the MCP believe that the best way to improve living standards and conditions is to increase the capacity of Malawians through private sector jobs and businesses that generate enough income for them to build their own houses.
No President can say in one breath that the Government needs to move away from dependency on donors and at the same time sink Malawians deeper into dependency on Government subsidies. Malawi does not need a President who invents new ways to spend Malawians‟ money, but one who creates new ways for Malawians to create wealth which they can spend as they see fit. How can this president administer a cure for our economic ills if he is unable to see that dependency on subsidies is part of the sickness? How can Malawians be engaged in activities that grow the economy when he is busy deepening their sense of dependency?
The projected economic growth of 3 percent, a reduction from about 5.3 percent, is a real shame on policy makers. It is a shame to take comfort in the reduction of global and Sub- Saharan growth projections by the IMF. We know that the Sub-Saharan African countries most affected are the net oil exporters because of the reduced world oil prices. Malawi is linked to the global economy generally through donor inflows, which support the majority of economic activities.
The absence of direct donor assistance to the budget and even on other activities because of loss of confidence in the government is the chief cause for the reduced growth. Do we have recommended areas that need immediate action so that we comply with IMF demands?
Mr. Speaker Sir, during the January 2015 sitting of Parliament we were told that the Kwacha had stabilized as a result of prudent economic management by government. We were further assured by the Minister of Finance that we would soon be smiling as a result of such stability. During the same sitting, Mr. Speaker Sir, I had suspected manipulation because there was no evidence of large inflows of foreign exchange that would support the appreciation of the Kwacha.
The truth came out in the second and third quarters of the year when the Kwacha, by government’s own admission, lost 30 percent of its value. The Malawi Kwacha had a ‘false’ appreciation in December 2014 following a bond sale to PTA Bank.
It is therefore not surprising Mr. Speaker Sir, that there were signs of distress within the period for tobacco export proceeds. Now that the tobacco season is over, pressure on the currency has resurfaced, from US$ middle rate of 455.2 as of October, 2014, to 559.6 at the end of October, 2015. Mr. Speaker Sir, this currency cover up has come back to bite us and is just one of many examples that clearly the DPP led government has a hard time telling Malawians the truth, and instead resorts to seeking temporary escape by deliberately misinforming the electorate.
Another example of this is the Executive‟s claim that Malawi’s overall ranking in Doing Business has gone up by twenty- three steps, when in fact it has only gone up by three steps, from 144 to 141, which is itself not worth celebrating considering that Malawi was once in the top 100 before its ranking fell on the back of bad economic policies. Mr. Speaker
Sir, It appears that DPP government has employed many Ministers of Misinformation to cover their blunders.
Mr Speaker Sir, I wish all Malawians to know that every time the DPP Government makes a misleading public statement to malign the opposition by starting a storm in a teacup, the goal is to divert attention from their own abuse of public resources and from the decimation their policies are causing in the private sector. How can you implement policies that destroy productivity and jobs in the private sector and then turn around and tell civil servants that if they want a good paying job, they should quit and seek employment in the private sector. Doesn‟t the President know that his policies are shutting down business and killing jobs in the private sector?
What an irresponsible thing to say to civil servants!
Look at the interest rates the private sector has to contend with. With nominal lending interest rates at around 45-50%, it is virtually impossible to find an investment that can yield that rate of return. Given the high rate of inflation, now around 24%, the real rate of return is around 20-26%. It is also impossible to find productive investment that can yield that rate of return. Many people are being retrenched as a result.
So which private sector has reserved jobs for the civil servants?
Mr Speaker Sir, while a National Planning Commission is necessary and has helped in the coordination of economic policies in many countries, it is not a magic wand. If the people in charge of policy and decision-making are the same as those who are failing now, we will just waste resources and enlarge the size of government for no return. It will be another white elephant, like the Public Sector Reforms which are literally bearing no fruits of transformation if the lack of reform in the management of such public institutions as Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, ESCOM and the Water Boards are anything to go by.
AGRICULTURE PRODUCTION & IRRIGATION
Mr. Speaker, Sir, the President reported in his statement that economic growth projections have been revised downwards from 6 percent to 3 percent in 2015 and 4.5 percent in 2016.
However, very little has been done to induce agricultural productivity, leaving the majority of Malawians who are subsistence farmers trapped in poverty. Malawi has clearly over stretched dependence on Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP), such that the lean and delayed operations this year will have far reaching negative effects on crop productivity. Does the President know that farmers have not yet received coupons this far in the season? Does the President know that the funds for the maize seed have not been sourced yet? Does the
President know that the expected tonnage of fertilizer for the targeted beneficiaries is facing serious supply challenges by the contracted suppliers and it is not by this time available in depots across the country?
Mr Speaker Sir, pricing of agricultural produce is acrimonious, and farmers have now become slaves at the mercy of those who are accumulating massive wealth from the agricultural sector. We are living in a country where government has allowed its own tobacco farmers to become tenants at their own farms under the guise of the Integrated Production System (IPS). What kind of Government countenances and facilitates the day-light robbery of its own people? Tobacco farmers are declining into poverty each day despite working hard in their fields. Since it is a historical fact that these very farmers prospered during the MCP era, MCP recommends a complete overhaul of the tobacco contract farming system, IPS which is putting farmers at the mercy of tobacco merchants.
MCP believes mechanization and irrigation farming should be emphasized more and diversification should be seriously considered.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the Department of Meteorology has already warned us of the possibility of El Nino this year. How prepared are we for disasters like we witnessed last year? We needed to hear an update from the Executive.
ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Mr Speaker Sir, this brings me to the state of the environment in the context of climate change. We observe forests are being depleted in strategic catchment areas – a phenomenon that is already affecting economic growth. Environmental degradation in catchment areas of our critical water sources is a big threat that needs government‟s serious attention. Government‟s failure to stop the plunder of Dzalanyama and Chikangawa Forests, Chimaliro, and Khulubvi, is completely unacceptable.
The sorry state in which these important forests are in is a national shame and clear indication that Malawi is off track.
How can we protect people from disasters if well connected businessmen are still allowed to deplete forests and export our wood to other countries? Is it that the DPP administration is afraid of these criminals or is it in collusion with them? How do we hope to generate adequate electricity while trees are being cut at will and charcoal business is allowed to thrive along the roads of Malawi and next to police road blocks? How shall we bequeath our culture to the young people if our indigenous forests are being destroyed? How shall we fight malnutrition if natural fruits are being destroyed? How shall we ensure productive agriculture if the soil is eroded in the absence of trees?
NATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY
The other issue that continues to dominate public debate is the issue of deteriorating security in our country. Mr Speaker, Sir, MCP has noted with concern to hear the President downplay the real security breakdown in this country. He said that statistics indicate that the crime rate is going down, but conveniently neglected to say what those statistics are and where he is getting them from.
Mr Speaker Sir, what Malawians know is that thugs armed with pangas are terrorising them in their homes. Since 2014 the security situation in the country has deteriorated to levels we have never seen before. The number of reports of rape, defilement, abduction and killing of albinos, and killing of police in the line of duty has been on the rise. Even houses of diplomats are being broken into by robbers! Mr Speaker, Sir, if the Government is incapable of protecting its citizens, can they at least give us an answer to this simple question: Why are you doing nothing to investigate the murder of a senior Anti- Corruption Bureau officer, Issa Njauju? From the day of the murder until now, the Government has taken a casual approach to the investigation just as it has done with Chasowa murder. Why should it be the opposition, the British High Commissioner, and other members of the diplomatic corps who push for a thorough investigation when the President has he entire police service at his command?
When the Council for Foreign Relations in New York asked the President about what is being done about Issa Njauju’s death, all the President said was that the murder was a professional job and was very complicated to solve! What? If you are admitting that our problems are too complicated for you to solve, then why are you clinging to the office you hold? Mr Speaker Sir, the ACB like other constitutional governance institutions need not only to operate independent from the executive, but also in a safe and secure environment. When officers are kidnapped, brutally murdered and burnt…that is not just a precious soul lost, but justice denied.
Mr. Speaker, Sir, the House is fully aware that security, peace and stability are the bedrock of democracy and economic development. The President has indicated that his government is committed to provide safety and security to all persons, property and investments, but it is clear to all Malawians that the measures taken are still weak and no strategy exists to deal with organized crime. Is it that criminals are more organized than the government or the government is organized more by criminals? How did we come to this? I will tell you, Mr. Speaker, Sir: the reality is that the greatest security challenges in this country are rooted in politicization of State Security Institutions. The recent “angster‟ report which the National Intelligence Bureau produced targeting opposition and civil society organization leaders is a clear example of this.
But the last time I checked, the Constitution never said that the National Intelligence Bureau exists to operate as the DPP‟s spy organization to snoop on Malawians.
May I suggest that the long awaited legislation regulating the NIB be tabled in this House?
Mr Speaker Sir, our health service delivery is collapsing. Drugs are being stolen in government hospitals. The President has highlighted the improvement in availability of drugs and supplies in hospitals. MCP emphatically indicates that this remains a huge challenge because in the hospitals, there is still persistent acute drug shortage. And the President was insensitive to claim that we have 80 per cent of MUST HAVE drugs and 56 per cent of overall catalogue when there is massive shortage of drugs across the country.
Where are those drugs kept and why are they kept away from Malawians? There still seems to be a huge disparity in what the central government is reporting and what the DHOs are reporting. Malawians have today awoken to the sad reality of a government that has made history by putting patients in the public hospitals on involuntary fasting programs that provide only one meal a day to cut costs. Who in their right mind cuts costs by starving the sick? If the DPP government was hoping to invent new ways of making history, it has succeeded!
Mr Speaker Sir, at the Kamuzu Central Hospital, for instance, there is a scanner that has not been repaired for eight months. On average, every day three people in critical condition come to the hospital in need of the scanner. The Government is failing to pay K26 million to repair the scanner, yet it is spending billions of kwacha on mud-slinging political gatherings masquerading as development rallies. Could not the proceeds from the sale of MSB covered some of these expenses?
It is also sad to observe the inadequate health personnel in our public hospitals yet government has withdrawn the nurses that had been employed. Further more, Mr Speaker Sir, failure by government to recruit health personnel that are now trekking to other African and Western countries is another issue that needed an update from the President’s address.
Mr Speaker Sir, the inconsistencies in this Government are so many that it is dizzying to account for them all. We spend millions to train doctors, but say that we are too broke to employ them. The same government says it is selling MSB one day, then says it is not selling it in order to consult Malawians, then sells the bank while Malawians are giving their input through Parliament. The same government says it is not buying a jet, then hires a jet, then says it will buy a jet in the future, then says it will never buy a jet. The same government says it has no plans to raise salaries for public officers, then raises salaries a month later, then its leaders say they are suspending the salary increases they gave themselves until the economy improves.
The same government says the Access to Information bill will not be tabled in this sitting of parliament, then says that the bill will be tabled in this sitting of parliament. This is a government that communicates today that it is not recruiting junior doctors and tomorrow the same government contradicts itself by saying it will recruit junior doctors. First the government communicates that there will be no Maize seed package in the 2015/16 FISP program, then wakes up the next morning it is going to include maize seed in FISP. The same government that campaigned on the promise that civil servants will have their salaries improved is now slinging insults at the civil servants for believing the empty promises, saying things that I cannot repeat in this House, when they make legitimate demands.
The Education Sector, once the pride of Malawi, is now on its deathbed. Parents and students are wonderingwhy fundamental changes or decisions are being introduced by presidential decree as if Malawi is a dictatorship.
If indeed fiscal discipline is the justification for cutting funding to our children‟s education, shouldn‟t the first place to cut funding be the Executive„s inflated entourages on domestic and foreign trips? Shouldn‟t the President first show that he can balance the books? However, instead of strengthening the systems, media reports indicate that the Government is not carrying out bank reconciliation. Everyone knows that bank reconciliation is a very important internal control tool. But the President‟s administration has not reconciled bank accounts ever since it came into power eighteen months ago. So why pretend that you are serious about fiscal discipline by punishing young people we need to be investing in to become the job creators the country needs?
Mr. Speaker Sir, loans for the needy University students are not approved until months into the semester now and a majority of these students are not yet registered. And yet the executive does not seem to care as long as their children are doing well in foreign universities. Mr. Speaker Sir, schools continue to run without motivated and trained teachers. The poor continue to send their children to schools where teaching and learning materials are not available and many children are learning under the tree. Is this justice?
Mr. Speaker Sir, I can confidently say that if Malawians went to the polls today, this President and his cronies would be voted out of office. What I cannot confidently say is that their votes would be counted, if the recent history of ballot boxes being burned under state guard is anything to go by, a crime for which this government is yet to bring anyone to book.
Everyone is aware that the controversial 2014 tripartiteelections nearly brought this peaceful nation to the brink of anarchy. But because the respective leadership of the MCP, PP and UDF is not power hungry, they restrained their supporters from resorting to violence and leaving this country in smoke.
What we need in this regard, Mr Speaker Sir, is a legislative seal in the constitutional loopholes which seriously undermine the integrity of our elections, but to the dismay of Malawians, these seem to be nowhere near this government‟s priorities.
And yet this is a simple problem to fix because we have already received recommendations from international election observers, calls from PAC and other civic groups, to amend our electoral laws to include the following two provisions:
- a) Introduce the 50+1 electoral system to enhance the legitimacy of any elected government and national stability,
- b) Extend the constitutional time limit placed on the MEC to announce results of the Presidential election especially where there are evident irregularities and sticky issues bordering on electoral fraud.
Is it not about time we amend the electoral laws so that the presidential electoral results are announced only after they have been independently audited and certified? Is it not about time we adopted a system that requires MEC officials at constituency polling centers to announce the results of their Constituency to the whole nation live from the same centers where they are counted and signed for by all parties in the presence of observers to do away with the errors and manipulations that creep into the tally sheets as they travel long distances to reach the national tally center?
Mr Speaker Sir, let me be clear. If the President does not bring to the next session of Parliament a bill that introduces these reforms to our electoral system, we will do it ourselves through a private members‟ bill. And I hope the Executive will bring the Access to Information bill the President promised in good time for us all to review it and debate it properly before passing, because Malawians are tired of this government‟s politics of ambush and sabotage. Bring the bills now, not in 2018!
Mr Speaker, Sir, let me conclude by reiterating that there is no hope for Malawians in this government. We in this House are committed to spend the next few weeks recommending solutions to the problems the President clearly has no way of solving, but I trust that I have provided sufficient evidence to all Malawians that the President has no direction or hope for Malawians.
Even with the ideas and solutions we put forward in the deliberations of this sitting of Parliament, there is only so much that will be done to move this country forward because under this current government, politics of nepotism, self- defense, slander, denial, and misinformation triumph over all the good will, good ideas, and good governance available in this house. Mr Speaker Sir, we are a nation in deep trouble.
I hope and pray that what we deliberate in this house will bring hope to all Malawians.
I thank you Mr Speaker Sir, and thank you all for your kind attention. God Bless you, God Bless Our Nation, Malawi.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :