Mr. Speaker, Sir, I would like to convey my earnest appreciation to you for giving me this opportunity to respond to the State of the Nation Address delivered by the State President, Her Excellency Dr Mrs Joyce Banda on Friday, 8th February, 2013 on the occasion of the State Opening of the 44th Session of Parliament.
Mr Speaker, Sir, before I proceed with delivering my response to the State of the Nation Address allow me to convey, on behalf of the Malawi Congress Party and the entire Opposition and on my own behalf, my heartfelt best wishes to all Honourable Members of Parliament for the New Year, 2013.
Mr Speaker, Sir, once again we are in this August House to reflect on the state of our nation. The State of the Nation Address affords us with an occasion to take stock of what we have done and how we have performed during past year, and also provides us with an opportunity on how we can chart our way forward as a nation.
Mr Speaker, Sir, the year 2012 was characterised with some major events in the history of our country. One government went and another came. This transition took place on the backdrop of very serious political, economic and social upheavals. What was striking at this moment is that new government was not the continuation of the previous. The new government brought a message of hope and a new future for all Malawians.
Mr Speaker, Sir, nine months have gone since the inauguration of this government. As we assembled in the August House captains of the industry, the diplomatic community and the civil society came over in this August House, some of them coming from as far Blantyre and Mzuzu, to listen to the State of the Nation Address. Most importantly Malawians out there were glued to their radios and TVs listening to the State President addressing the nation in Parliament. We are here as representatives of all Malawians to reflect on the state of our nation.
Mr Speaker, Sir, on 21st May, 2012 I stood in this August House to respond to the State of the Nation Address she had delivered in this August House on 18thMay, 2012, and offer my unequivocal and explicit support to Her Excellency Dr Mrs Joyce Banda and her government because at that time I was fully convinced and believed that we all knew what the people of Malawi had been going through, and what their aspirations for, and expectations of the new government were.
Mr Speaker, Sir, what the State President delivered in this August House last year was premised on the common understanding that Malawians had gone through thick and thin, and needed some relief out of those hardships.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I honestly wonder whether that common understanding is still there. I wonder if this government fully and really appreciate what our dear people are still going through. I say this because the conduct of this government puts me at pains to see the sense in some of the things that they are doing. For instance, on one hand the Vice President announced that it had pleased the State President to cut her salary and that of the Vice President by 30% as part of the country’s leadership commitment to the austerity measures that had been put in place. On the other we saw the State President and the Vice President criss-crossing the country almost every other day in the name of seeing the people and relief distribution while drawing huge allowances that made their salary cuts a mockery.
Mr Speaker, Sir, while with the previous government we witnessed a nation maturing itself into a mess by the kind of policies that the then government was championing, we now have a government that is slowly but steadily and surely losing grip of its own machinery. There is no sense of direction at all. No one seems to know what to do later alone how to do it. Our State President is hardly in the office. This is true with our Honourable Ministers; they are also scarcely seen in the offices because they have to accompany the State President to presidential functions. I wonder if our leadership has the time to attend to issues that come to their offices for direction. The government machinery is now like sheep with a shepherd to tend them.
Mr Speaker, Sir, it is not a surprise that corruption and wastage and abuse of national resources has become the order of the day. This is confirmed by the number of contracts and/or processes that have been cancelled by the State President in the wake of anomalies. This worries me and the nation, Mr Speaker, Sir.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I agree with the State President that when this government was sworn in on 7th April last year the people of Malawi breathed a sigh of relief, and hoped for a better Malawi. However, I wonder if Malawians still see that hope in this government. There is no sense of direction in this government, and the Word of God says that where there is no vision the people perish. While many of us believed in this government as a listening and caring government, we see this government sliding into a state of anarchy. The nation is quite aware of some of the pronouncements by the leadership of this country that have been made in defence of their actions and policies. I am afraid to say that some of those pronouncements may border on executive arrogance because they do not want to listen to what their people are saying.
Mr Speaker, Sir, one of the pinnacles of democratic governance is to ensure that the citizenry have access to balanced and fair coverage of information from the entire political divide in a country which facilitates informed decision making by the people. We need to build and nurture a knowledgeable and well informed society to spur socio-economic development in this country.
In the formative stage of this government, the Malawians were assured that the state broadcaster, MBC, would be accessible by all regardless of their political inclination and alignment. To date nothing significant has changed as the alternative voice on MBC is still scarce and unheard. Where is the hope for a better Malawi, the people of this great nation were assured of?
Secondly, the nation has been waiting for the tabling of the Access to Information Bill in Parliament for a long time. All we are told is that it is still being attended to by government. I would like to appeal to government to speed up the finalisation of this long overdue bill and bring it before Parliament for enactment.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to say that flowery statements made on political platforms are meaningless if they cannot be translated into actions that build this nation. Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, Sir, the nation address we had in this Honourable House last Friday is one such statement: an address that offers nothing new, nothing tangible, nothing concrete, and nothing to hope for.
STATE OF THE ECONOMY
Mr Speaker, Sir, allow me to give an overview of the state of the nation as most Malawians see it today except for the privileged few on that side of government.
If a visitor had just landed at Kamuzu International Airport, and was taken straight from the airport to Malawi National Assembly to listen to the State of the Nation Address in this Honourable House last Friday, the impression to such a person would be Malawi is performing well. However, for a Malawian born and bred in this country, and had witnessed the turn of events in April last year, there would be nothing to rejoice about because it is the same old story of well prepared speeches by government that say nothing and mean nothing but more misery and hardships for the ordinary person in the street and village.
Mr Speaker, Sir, we all know that the socio-economic challenges we are going through in this country originate from the previous government. It is true that the current government inherited this mess. However, what Malawians are not convinced about is this government’s commitment to address these challenges. While we are being told to brace for the austerity measures and its biting effects, we see our leaders bursting in luxury.
Mr Speaker, Sir, while we acknowledge and appreciate some of the strides that have been made in trying to turn the economy of this country around, Malawi is still in an economic turmoil. The very night the State President delivered State of the Nation Address in this August House, the pump price of fuel went up by over 15%. What does that mean to an ordinary man and woman out there?
Mr Speaker, Sir, let me comment on the devaluation and floatation of the Malawi Kwacha. While it was inevitable to devalue our currency, and any government would have done it, what we do not agree with our government is the manner and management of this devaluation and its subsequent floatation. Free floatation of the currency is not viable for Malawi. While it was a necessary measure to devalue our currency as one way of addressing the challenges of forex, the government only addressed the demand side of the equation. The supply side of the equation has not been the same attention.
The demand side has only managed to cut down on the appetite for forex but that alone does not generate forex. Therefore, it is equally imperative to address the supply side so that the country is able to produce for the export market to generate the much needed forex.
Mr Speaker, Sir, secondly the government did not put in place the necessary mechanisms to cushion the people against the negative effects of the devaluation and subsequent floatation. As result whatever gains this policy measure is bearing it is just on paper because the people on the ground continue to be subjected to the economic hardships.
AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY
Mr Speaker, Sir, as I said last year the economic downturn which the country has been and is still facing can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the mainstay of our economy, the agricultural sector in general and the tobacco industry in particular, did not get the right attention. There was a great mismatch among the key factors for sustainable agricultural growth to support our economy. While we were able to achieve food security at national level, which is commendable, the government failed to render the much needed support to our agricultural commercial sector which is a key to industrial growth and the export market. This is an area that we, as Malawi Congress Party, pledged to render our full support to the government of Her Excellency the State President, Dr Mrs Joyce Banda because we have abundant capacity and resource.
Mr Speaker, Sir, the backborne of our economy is agriculture. It contributes about 30 – 40 % of the GDP, 85 – 90 % of the foreign exchange earnings, and 85% of the workforce. Agriculture also provides 60 – 70% of the inputs to the manufacturing sector and distribution industry. Growth of the agriculture sector or lack thereof affects the growth of the entire economy. This is the reason the agriculture sector needs much more attention than what is happening now. We cannot talk of turning around our economy if agriculture does not get the priority it deserves.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to retaliate what I said last year in my response to the State of the Nation Address on agriculture. In order to promote industrial development in the agriculture sector, the government and the private sector should pay particular attention to the following critical areas:
- Agricultural Production
- Investment in research and technology should be taken as critical component in the development of the agriculture sector. One of the challenges facing the country is availability of certified seed for the various crops we are promoting. There should be adequate financial support to our research stations in the country.
- Provision of extension services to our farmers is a critical component for enhancing agricultural production. Resuscitating and investing in agriculture extension services will be pivotal in supporting our farmers, especially the smallholder farmers, with knowledge and skills for the promotion of modern agronomic best practices. I would like to appeal to government to seriously look into this area.
- Agricultural Commercialisation
- Promotion of mechanisation in agriculture for both rain-fed and irrigation farming is commendable initiative by the government. This will help promote the commercialisation of agriculture in the country.
- The challenges of climate change necessitate us all to embrace irrigation not as an option but the way to do farming in the country. I am particularly happy that the government would like to promote two cropping seasons by supporting irrigation.
- Structured Marketing System
- Development of structured and regulated marketing systems is critical for ensuring that our farmers have steady and reliable market for their commodities. ADMARC would play critical role in this respect. I would love to see ADMARC resuscitated to provide regular and reliable market for farmers.
- Agricultural Credit System
- Development of an agriculture credit system to provide the finance for agriculture production is another key element in developing agriculture in the country. Meaningful agriculture is not possible in the absence of proper financing mechanisms.
- Promotion of farmer clubs would be vital in supporting the agricultural credit system.
EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Mr Speaker, Sir, I now turn to education, science and technology. Education is remains a vital catalyst for socio-economic development of this country. It is pleasing to note that government has taken steps to address some of the challenges in our primary and secondary schools such as:
- Teaching and learning materials.
- Recruitment of more teachers.
- Promotion of teachers
However, the post secondary school education is conspicuously missing from the State President’s speech. This is coming at a time when recent media reports have been awashed with challenges the higher learning institutions are facing. Media reports indicate that the constituent colleges of the University of Malawi face imminent closure because of financial challenges. The Mzuzu University has been closed for a number of months to due lack of funding. The new but yet to be opened the Malawi University of Science and Technology is failing to open because there are some gaps that need to be addressed.
Mr Speaker, Sir, why should the State President’s speech be silent on such an important and pertinent matter? There is no longer mention of the five public universities the government outlined to the nation. Where are we on these important projects? With the increased number of secondary school output where will our children be absorbed? Access to university education due to limited capacity of the current public universities remains one of the big challenges we need to address. These are some of concerns I have on higher education sector. I hope the government will bring some light on these issues as we progress with this Meeting of Parliament.
Mr Speaker Sir, I now turn over to the public health sector. Recent media reports about drug shortages and stock-outs in our hospitals are very disturbing. We commend the State President that she quickly moved in to have audience with senior doctors on the state of our hospital facilities and services.
However, my question is why should it take some medical doctors to write an open letter to the State President and the nation in media about the plight of health facilities and services? Where is the government machinery that is supposed to handle such issues? From what we read in the press, these doctors had already exhausted the internal systems and procedures on the issue but the authorities were not responsive enough hence the writing of an open letter.
Mr Speaker, Sir, should we say that this is the confirmation that our leaders are hardly in the office to attend to such matters, and as such the only we to catch their attention is to go to the media? At least we know they read the newspapers. This is the reason I have said earlier on that our leaders seem to be losing grip of the government machinery.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I am not convinced that the government is serious and committed in addressing the problems in the health sector. Let them walk the talk. Malawians are tired of political platform rhetorics. The issues of shortage of drugs, welfare of our medical personnel, and health equipment and facilities in our hospitals have been raised now and again both here in Parliament and outside Parliament with little change. Following the initiative Her Excellency the State President has taken, I would like to call upon the government to walk the talk on the issues they have recently agreed. The people of Malawi want tangible commitments and actions from our leaders.
Mr Speaker, Sir, some of the challenges this nation is still grappling with are:
- Poor and inadequate health facilities
- High mortality rate among under five children
- Maternal health and safe motherhood
- HIV and AIDS
TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATION
Mr Speaker Sir, I now focus on transport and communication. As we are all aware transport and communication is another key factor in facilitating the development of any country. I am pleased to note that government recognises the need for a well coordinated transport system in the country as outlined in Her Excellency The President, Dr Mrs Joyce Banda’s State of the Nation Address.
Mr Speaker, Sir, my appeal to government is that there should equitable distribution of projects across the country. The government needs to present a comprehensive report on all infrastructure projects in the country.
Mrs Speaker Sir, I thank you sincerely for giving me this opportunity to respond to the State of the Nation Address delivered in this August House by the State President, Her Excellency Dr Mrs Joyce Banda on 8th February, 2013.
I thank all Honourable Members for their attention. Thank you very much.
God bless Malawi, and bless you all.
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