Of Motal Engil deal and Malawi Land Bills: Mutharika’s govt lack of transparency creates suspicion

It is common knowledge that Malawians are facing numerous problems— r a n g i n g from food shortaged to joblessness. This high level of suffering has forced most people to pose the question: “Where is Malawi leading to?” Probably, government has an answer to this question. From time to time the President assures Malawians that the economic situation will soon be better because his government is delivering his party manifesto. To most Malawians, this means nothing. They are likely to argue that a successful manifesto is one which can put food at their table, create jobs and, above all, wean Malawians from abject poverty. To say that the government is looking into all this and yet there are no tangible results, is just as good as saying nothing.

President Peter Mutharika greets Gilberto Rodriques of Mota Engil at the official opening of John Chilembwe Highway in Blantyre
President Peter Mutharika greets Gilberto Rodriques of Mota Engil at the official opening of John Chilembwe Highway in Blantyre

While people a r e grappling with poverty, the least they would want is to see their government coming up with laws that are at the least understood. Malawi being a democracy, it goes without saying that any changes or new things introduced must be well understood and accepted by all. If the government feels that people do not matter, it is doing that at its own peril. For example, during president Bingu wa Mutharika’s rule, for reasons best known to the leadership, the Malawi flag was changed. It was obvious most Malawians did not agree with the reasoning behind the change. Hence, when president Joyce Banda came into power, one of the first things she did was to change the flag back to its original colours.

During the last sitting of Parliament one of the Bills passed was the controversial Land Bill, which was passed by the government side only. Judging from public comments and arguments in the media, it is clear that the majority of Malawians do not understand the Bill. Therefore, there is need for more consultations. Imagine, even some of the chiefs who are custodians of the land are up in arms. They strongly believe that if the Land Bill is finally made into law, chiefs are likely to be powerless and landless.

If it is by design by government to make the Land Bill vague, then people are forced to be suspicious in thinking that the land should be taken over by would-be investors. If this is the case, then it is unfortunate that the Mutharika Government has learnt nothing from the landless situation of the people of Thyolo and Mulanje. Why should Malawians be tenants in their own country for the sake of investors whose benefits are neither here nor there. The government should come out clear that it has no hidden agenda.

The importance of transparency  in government cannot be overemphasised. If right from the beginning Malawians were aware of the 35-year concession of Mota Engil on Lake Malawi, no one would have been raising eyebrows now after Harry Mkandawire, MP for Mzimba West brought the matter to Parliament. Government tried to defend Mota Engil but to no avail. It is such haphazard defence that creates suspicions that may be some government officials are up to no good in the dealings.

The Mota Engil deal is just like the Kayelekela mining deal. While people feel that they are not gaining anything, the government supports the deal for reasons best known to itself.

Lastly, it goes without saying that President Mu t h a r i ka and his government should always strive to be honest and transparent in running the country so that people should not be suspicious of any underhand practices

  • The article first appeared in The Nation newspaper

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