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 honor of representing here today, I would like to extend profound thanks to you for according me this opportunity to respond to the State of the Nation Address delivered by His Excellency, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi in this august House on 20th May, 2016.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the theme of my address today is “Dzukani A Malawi”.
Mr. Speaker Sir, it has now been exactly 2 years since Malawians braved the winter mornings of May to exercise their constitutional right to choose those who should govern them. We are seated here as a result of that sacred choice and should count ourselves privileged to be entrusted with running the affairs of this great country. As such, it must be remembered that we are not here to warm the chairs; we are not here to fight for our political agendas; we are not here to accumulate allowances; we are not here for the cameras; we are not here to be thoughtless hand-clappers. And yes, Mr. Speaker Sir, I dare say that even if we feel that the President’s speech before this honorable house was no better than a make-believe and uninspiring bed-time story, we are not here to sleep.
We are here to represent the concerns and aspirations of the Malawian people. For this reason, Mr. Speaker Sir, this sitting of Parliament calls for serious introspection not just for us as representatives, but for all Malawians. To every Malawian, the question I think you should ask yourself is this: Is your life better off now under this government than it was two years ago? Your answer to that question is all the substance you need to know that the country is moving away from progress. For those of us in government, whether in the executive or legislative branches, the question we must answer is this: is there anything we can show the people of Malawi for the huge resources we approved last year in this very august house? Our people have the right to know what happened to all the money that was made available to this government to make lives better. They have the right to know why their government asks for money every year when there is no evidence that their lives are improving, and when in fact most Malawians feel their lives are getting worse. They have the right to know why they must continue paying taxes when those who have the mandate to use those taxes for service delivery and development come back to this house with very little to show for it. They have the right to know why giving money to this government feels like pouring precious water in a bucket with twenty reshuffled executive holes at the bottom?
Mr. Speaker Sir, given the critical situation the country and its citizens are in, I will not respond to every detail of the State President’s address on Friday. By stating in the title of his address that the country is moving TOWARDS recovery and development, the President has made it clear that he is satisfied to keep Malawians waiting for the recovery and development of the country. However, Mr. Speaker Sir, after twenty-two years of waiting, the people of Malawi do not want any leader to tell them to keep waiting. The people of Malawi do not want to be told that their recovery is still in the future. The people of Malawi want, need, and demand results NOW. And so my intention today is to speak directly to Malawians about the true state of this nation and the demands they must make to be led into a better and prosperous Malawi. Between what the President said on Friday and what I say today, I trust that the people of Malawi will make their own judgment as to which of us is painting an accurate picture of the way things are and which of us is living in the fantasy world of half-truths, denial, and distortions. Nonetheless, some commentary on the President’s address will no doubt be necessary, especially since the lack of leadership his speeches expose is one of the biggest challenges we face as a country. So where I deem him to have said something worthy of a response, I will focus my response on matters related to the economy, agriculture, health, rule of law, and other issues of significance to Malawians.
Mr. Speaker Sir, Malawians are desperate. They feel that their country has literally fallen apart. The headlines in our daily papers range from stories about theft of drugs in hospitals to long winding queues at ADMARC depots, water rationing, electricity load shedding, the ongoing plunder of public resources in government and in embassies, high inflation, and the rising cost of living and albino killings. So even though the President claims that the economy is stabilizing, I am here to tell him that the only place where that claim is true in real terms is in the State House he occupies, where all his bills and living expenses are paid for by Malawian tax-payers. But for our people, who pay their own bills and living expenses, there is nothing stable about this economy.
People are suffering in this country. The Kwacha continues to slide downwards despite all our efforts to manipulate the exchange rate. The recent trends show that while the Kwacha was artificially made to gain on the United States Dollar from about K765 to K693 to the Dollar, the short lived artificial relief did not last and therefore the Kwacha has gone back to more than K715 to one United States Dollar. If we want a truly strong currency, we must base it on a truly strong economy. No amount of manipulation and band-aid tactics will change the fact that the economic fundamentals of this country are not right or that the task of fixing them is firmly in the wrong hands.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indeed approved the resumption of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF), but what difference does it make to the common person in the village whose life before and after the resumption of the ECF remains unchanged? Besides, isn’t it obvious that the Government’s failed attempts to get Malawi’s international development partners to resume direct budgetary support proves that the confidence of donors is far from restored? And by telling Malawians that the reason for the withdrawal of budgetary support is because of changes in developed countries, when the real reason is our government’s failure to change its wasteful way of doing business, isn’t it obvious that the state of our nation is weak because the government is in a state of confusion?
Let’s face it: On May 20, 2014, the people went to vote, and two years later, on May 20, 2016, the president stood before the people representatives with nothing resembling the transformation the people demand. To put it bluntly, the Mutharika administration is a failed government! Are things getting better with our electricity? Are things getting better with our water supply? Are things getting better with our currency? Are things getting better with our cost of living? Are things getting better within our hospitals? Are things getting better for our unemployed youth? Are things getting better within our schools? Are things getting better for civil servants? Are things getting better for tobacco farmers at the auction floors? Are things getting better for primary and secondary school teachers? Are things getting better for small business owners? So how can the whole president claim that things are getting better? This is unacceptable!
Mr. Speaker Sir, we all want a stable economy, but you can’t stabilize the economy before stimulating the economic activities of ordinary Malawians, and you can’t stimulate those activities without ending the unaffordable and unrealistic interest rate policy of the Reserve Bank, which seems to base its rate on the price of maize, as if everybody borrows money just to buy maize for eating. You can’t claim that you want to get Malawians out of poverty when the money they need to start business can only be borrowed at interest rates above 20%. As a result, the levels of default are very high and Malawians are losing their homes to find relief from the shackles of debt by which their own government is enslaving them. This is criminal.
Mr. Speaker Sir, my overall sense on Friday was that the President came here with grand claims without substance or specifics. This is called Hot Air. For example, there were no specifics on a plan to turn the economy around; no specifics on the proposed commission to oversee national development issues; no specifics on the links between the performance of different sectors and national economic performance targets; no specifics on actions the government will take to end its irrational dependence on such external forces as the weather.
Agriculture and Food Security:
Mr. Speaker Sir, considering that Malawi is an agro based economy and that it is a fact of Malawi’s history that the MCP has a living legacy of building a robust and thriving agricultural sector, allow me to comment on the National Agricultural Policy (2016-2020). This is a key strategic document that the country needs to ensure that we have a clear roadmap to adequately address the current and future challenges facing the sector. As opposed to the laundry list approach spelled out in the State of the Nation Address, we need to adopt a broader framework designed to shift the agricultural sector as a whole towards a commercialization agenda.
Mr. Speaker Sir, first of all we commend the government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development in drafting the policy. MCP strongly believes that agriculture is the key to unlocking Malawi’s potential for becoming a poverty-free and growing economy for all our citizens, 80 percent of whom work in this sector for their livelihood.
Mr. Speaker Sir, MCP acknowledges the amount of work which has gone into involving all sector stakeholders to pull together these bold ideas which form the draft policy. Even so, allow me to make a number of observations for the government’s consideration with the aim of making this positive initiative even better for Malawians.
Strengthen the analytical basis for setting the policy objectives, outcomes and targets: There are a lot of policy objectives, outcomes and targets which have been set, but achieving them realistically requires that they be based on sharper analysis of the historical performance and a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead. For example, the policy goal of ensuring the achievement of at least 6 percent agricultural value-added growth is bold. However, looking at the sector growth for over 10 years from 2003 shows that average sector growth has been 3.3 percent.
Mr. Speaker Sir, There is no problem in setting a higher target, so long as there is an understanding of the underlying growth and what it takes to aspire for a higher growth trajectory. Also, one would want to have the analysis as to why the target is set at 6 percent and not higher, given that at times, Malawi has been able to achieve this, though we have not been able to sustain it. Throughout the 10 year period, agricultural growth has been above 6 percent only in 2007 and 2010. So the key question is: what will happen differently now to achieve and sustain the higher level of growth? I guess the answer lies in being realistic in setting the targets, outlining where we are and where we want to go and the investment required to get us there. Furthermore, high sector growth will unlikely be achieved with the focus on primary production. The policy should focus on promoting the production of a few key tradable commodities, for which there is already some capacity for value-addition within Malawi, specifically targeted at the export market, and/or for import substitution. In either case the country will generate foreign exchange through export earnings or saving on unnecessary imports which can be produced in the country.
Mr. Speaker Sir, Government should consider appropriate prioritization and sequencing of the commodities and policy actions: There are many commodities, policy outcomes and priorities. I encourage the government to consider setting priorities within priorities as this is critical to guide the investment framework. Given that the country’s fiscal space is highly constrained, and the private sector has been crowded out, either because financing is scarce and therefore highly costly (not affordable) or the financial sector is risk-averse to agricultural investors (very likely in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa), there is need to prioritize so as to optimize the use of the limited resources.
Mr Speaker Sir, Given the transformative agenda, the policy should be much bolder in creating the space for stronger private sector investment, much more than has been the case thus far: The private sector needs at least two things in order to invest: (i) a conducive policy framework that does not create uncertainty, or increase business risk; (ii) the fiscal space to access resources at reasonable cost.
What would be the strategy in the next 4-5 years to ensure that these are provided in Malawi to encourage private sector investment in agriculture? It is impossible to think about accessible financing for agriculture/agribusiness through the existing financial institutions, with double-digit interest rates, in a highly inflationary context. Today, public funds and private equity, hedge funds or impact investments are increasingly becoming popular to catalyze private sector investment in highly risky (high social and economic return) sectors such as agriculture. What would the Government do in the next 4-5 years to facilitate setting-up of such facilities in Malawi to help domestic and international investors in agriculture/agribusiness?
Mr. Speaker Sir, a stronger private sector value-chain/ commodity-based approach as the central framework for the design and implementation of the Agricultural Policy is so critical towards ensuring its success. Value-chain approach provides a mechanism for clearly understanding the production structure and the underlying challenges affecting each of the key value-chain players. Without a value-chain perspective, it is difficult to address challenges related to productivity and competitiveness in a comprehensive manner. A value-chain commodity-based approach is also a powerful tool for commodity prioritization, based on the existing natural comparative advantage in the various agro-ecological zones in the country.
Mr Speaker Sir, Private sector/smallholder linkages for inclusive broad-based sector growth: When the private sector investment is strong, there is always a risk that smallholder farmers will be unable to catch-up and may lose out. However, there is an opportunity to create productive business linkages with smallholder farmers, for them to benefit from technology spill-overs, highly productive work-ethics and provision of markets for smallholder produce. The framework for promoting contracting farming and/or out-grower arrangements should be a strong element in the policy in order to facilitate the transformation agenda. MCP also believes there is need for institutions that work with farmers i.e. private sector players, NGOs and farmer-based organizations such as the Farmers’ Union of Malawi (FUM), National Smallholder Farmer’s Association of Malawi (NASFAM) and others to be strongly linked to the strategy of organizing smallholder farmers, providing them the public/private sector services to enable them to take advantage of the growing organized supply-chain in food and other industrial commodities which they produce.
Mr. Speaker Sir, Strengthen policy and regulatory framework to improve the investment climate in agriculture and agro-related industries: MCP believes that in order to facilitate the transformation, the policy framework in the next 4-5 years should be different. For example, if Malawi is to increase its terms of trade (agricultural exports outstripping imports) in the next 4-5 years, enabling the country to be competitive against other countries in supplying to the Chinese, Indian, Western Europe, USA, SA and other emerging markets, what should be done differently in the area of policy and regulatory reform? Is the current tariff and non-tariff structure supportive or prohibitive of Malawi’s producers and exporters? It is upon being candid in answering these basic questions that we would be able to develop a more progressive and supportive policy and regulatory framework which does not under-cut Malawi’s competitiveness in the regional and international market. It is this kind of assessment that I feel is missing in the draft document.
Mr Speaker Sir, Strengthen the implementation framework for the policy: Malawi as a country is not devoid of policies and strategies. We have some of the most brilliant and thoughtful policies and strategies which end up not being implemented properly (e.g. Malawi Agricultural Sector Investment Policy (MASIP), more recent policies etc.). It is always their implementation which is a challenge. MCP would therefore encourage the government to step back and consider why earlier policies and strategies in the sector have not achieved that much? Where were the critical challenges? What is going to be done differently now to ensure a well-coordinated implementation framework. As MCP, we would suggest that the implementation plan should be well developed following a review of the current Agricultural Sector Wide Approach (ASWAP), its successes and pitfalls, and the opportunities which now exist.
MCP would also suggest that government, in considering the implementation framework, should also focus on two key issues which can make a difference this time around: (i) developing a realistic, monitorable results framework, with realistic and measurable targets; (ii) a realistic investment framework based on a good and realistic understanding of the core functions of the public, private, civil society and development partners, including the incentives for attracting private sector investment. The investment framework should also have a realistic, monitorable results framework to which all stakeholders will align and be accountable.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the health sector continues to face a number of challenges, including critical shortage of staff, essential drugs and equipment. During the 2015/2016 fiscal year, Government, through the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST), developed a Concept of “MUST HAVE” list of medicine and medical supplies. This was meant to rationalize the use of the scarce resources that are made available for procurement of health commodities.
CMST continues to have challenges and its stock level is at 50 percent or below. This means that majority of the drugs are not available and most Malawians are buying their own medications following prescription. The status has reached critical levels and the assurance here is not satisfactory at all.
As MCP we have noted persistent emergency procurement of drugs which is very expensive. With the MUST HAVE LISTS; government must go into long term agreement frameworks in order to minimize costs we face with emergency procurement. Further to this, corruption at procurement level must be curbed in all forms.
We understand that Government is currently processing the recruitment of 1,412 young men and women who have graduated from the Malawi College of Health Sciences and the Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM) training colleges. We are also aware that there is a list of 51 fresh graduate Medical doctors, 10 Optometrists, 28 Physiotherapists and 34 Pharmacists from the College of Medicine, who will be placed on 18 months internship at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital and Kamuzu Central Hospital. The promise to recruit the graduates is good and welcome. But reports from the department of Human resource and Development indicate that government cannot recruit in the civil service anymore-hence the whole drama of asking Nurse/midwives to go for interviews first before recruitment. Can government come out in the open and tell the nation the truth about whether or not it will really recruit all these trained young men and women. The same goes for teachers. Many young men and women who have finished their training as teachers are just sitting in villages and towns. When is government going to recruit these newly trained teachers?
Mr. Speaker, Sir, to further improve on delivery of health services, during the 2015/2016 fiscal year, Government committed to construct 140 houses and five flats for staff under Umoyo Housing programme. Can we get an update on the progress of this important project?
Labour Issues – Official creation of poverty:
Mr Speaker Sir, MCP is saddened by the government’s failure to professionally manage recruitment for the Police and the Prison Services despite having police recruitment policy guidelines in place. It is sad to learn and observe that professionalism and technical advice has been sacrificed at the altar of political expedience to tickle the fancies of the ruling elite. It is also sad to note the failure, for four years now, by Government to recruit for the Malawi Defence Force despite the various missions our men and women are currently undertaking both at home and abroad.
Mr. Speaker Sir, all this puts to question Governments’ priorities in relation to national security and social economic development of the citizens, in particular the youth. By pressing adverts and in some respects conducting interviews on jobs that Government knew pretty well that it has no capacity or intention to recruit, the frustrations of the genuine hopes and expectations of the youths, parents and guardians were made worse.
Mr. Speaker Sir, currently, unemployment is on the increase as companies close down due to high inflation, interest and taxation rates. Of particular concern is the reported retrenchment that is happening at the Malawi Savings Bank (MSB). In 2015 the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), civil society organisations and people of good will vehemently opposed the reasons and manner in which Government went on to sale the Malawi Savings Bank (MSB). One of the reasons was to safeguard the jobs of the Malawians who work there. But as we speak, a massive retrenchment has taken place at the MBS. This will add to the already swelling numbers of unemployed citizens. This is happening despite strong recommendations that there should be no retrenchment arising from the merger within the first two years. We have noted that the new owner has gone ahead to effect the retrenchment before the 2 year period is over, thus breaking faith with Malawians.
Rule Of Law:
Mr. Speaker Sir, Governments exist to ensure and safe guard law and order, peace and security in the country; and alongside this to facilitate the progressive reduction of poverty among citizens. While this was true at one point in the history of this country, present experience points to government that is actually doing the opposite.
When government officials are engrossed in corruption and also when they pursue narrow and self-serving interests, actions like these end-up creating conditions for the prevalence of lawlessness and poverty among its citizens as is the case for Malawi today. A glance at the trends in Malawi today provides clear indicators of the linkage between the prevailing socio-economic hardships, public policy decisions and the pursuit of narrow interests by leaders over the last twenty years.
Mr. Speaker Sir, I would be remiss in my remarks if I cannot say something on the rule of law, the bed rock of any functioning democracy. I would like to hear from government on two specific issues and these are the Anti-Corruption Bureau Deputy Director’s decision to recuse himself from Dr. Muluzi’s corruption case and the security matter of Albinos. The MCP pushed for the independence of the ACB to safeguard the integrity and sanctity of legal processes, insulating it from any undue political interference of the executive.
As with unconcluded cases of late Chasowa and Njauju, the withdrawal of ACB deputy Director Mr Matemba, can discernibly be seen to be a result of government interference. Malawians must know that the chief culprit in the miscarriage of the rule of law in Malawi is the DPP government. Malawians will not forever be fooled by a government that has no credible commitment to the rule of law. The DPP government will have itself to blame when this great nation votes them out of office in 2019.
They keep asking the opposition to provide alternatives to its actions and ill intended policies yet this is not a listening government. When Malawians speak through the Public Affairs Committee and the President scolds and intimidates PAC for indicating time frames in which certain things should be done… what else do they want us to say? Here is free advice: Stop intimidating ACB and PAC. You voluntarily offered to serve Malawians and not rule over them. Not just to extract taxes, but to be held accountable for how you use them. That’s why we have insisted that this country needs servant leadership, not a tribal and arrogant domination of a disgruntled government. It is evident that your blocking of the bill for ACB independence was for the reason of perpetuating your control and partisan influence over its work.
Covert or overt interference in the work of the ACB a governance institution like the ACB seriously impedes the democratic tenets of the rule of law. By the way this is the only country where two former Presidents are unable to live in peace; one lives outside the country, the other is in and out of court. This is unacceptable.
Secondly we have watched with absolute dismay the helplessness of the executive and its security system in arresting the abduction and killing of people living with albinism. The abductors and killers and indeed their network will not be stopped by radio or TV or bill board adverts on the President’s statements.
They will not be stopped by press conferences. They will not be stopped by the marching of the Police Chief protesting against these abductions. They will be stopped when we stop talking and arrest them, uncover and disrupt their syndicates, associated witchdoctors and all involved. Explain to this nation why we have a whole ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security only busy extracting rents and bribes from motorists through all these road blocks yet we continue to lose more and more priceless lives. Is it not a ridiculous misplacement of effort that this government is obsessed with tracking Whatsapp chats and yet cannot with similar zeal stop these senseless killings? Where are your daily, weekly, and monthly priorities of our national security apparatus?
Mr Speaker Sir when one reflects on what is happening in this country and match it against the much touted reform agenda claimed to be implemented by this government, one is left with the conclusion that the reforms are just on paper. By celebrating launching them, we feel all is well. We should not celebrate going to war. We should celebrate coming back in victory.
Mr Speaker Sir, do reforms make sense when DHOs across the country are not allowed to speak about the challenges their districts are facing? Do reforms make sense when MBC continues to be a public-relation for a ruling party? Do reforms make sense when it takes 3 years (36 months) for the government to secure 14 cases in a case involving over 70 people? For how many more years should Malawians wait for all the suspects to appear in court?
Do reforms make any sense when recruitment for the security services such as the police continues to cause
Do reforms make any sense when hospitals continue to experience drug pilferage and those hospitalized can only one meal a day?
Can reforms make sense when ADMARC and the state machinery continue to tell Malawians that the country has enough maize and yet people continued to sleep at maize selling points up to as late as April?
Can reforms make sense when government continues to pay salaries to 94 Permanent Secretaries who are servicing only 20 ministries?
Do reforms make any sense when serious issues like Chasowa and Njauju murders continue to miss in a state of the nation address by the whole Head of State and Government?
State of Food Insecurity:
Mr Speaker Sir we are meeting at a time when our nation is faced with other matters of serious national importance which deserve our serious attention and action. Let me start with the issue of the looming hunger in our midst.
It is no secret that this year the country will face serious food shortage. Like we have indicated before, we in MCP will support government in its effort to take Malawi out of the hunger situation that it finds itself in. We want to thank government and the State President in particular for the spending a considerable amount of time discussing this important matter last Friday and we agree with him that a lot of resources will have to be spent on mitigating the impact of this disaster. However, we would like to advise government not to spend too much time thinking about short-term mitigation measures but focus its energies and thinking on long-term mitigation measures.
For example, we feel that turning the greenbelt initiative into reality is very critical at this point. It is not surprising that despite Greenbelt Initiative being the DPP government most touted initiative in their manifesto as a promise to the people of Malawi, the State President last Friday was at pains to show tangible results achieved since inception. Despite efforts made to allocate resources every financial year this government is failing to show us how they have hit the ground running as per their original claim by showing results indicating how much hectarage has been allocated to greenbelt initiative this far; how many farmers are engaged in the greenbelt initiative; how much volumes of commodities have been produced; how much revenue has been generated from the greenbelt initiative.
We have also noted with sadness that tractors that were meant for this exercise have been arbitrarily sold out and only about MK600 Million out of MK23 Billion loan from India has been recovered from buyers- leaving the balance to be shouldered by the poor Malawians.
Our prayer is that government will now realize that time to use loans to fund self-aggrandizement is over and that this is time to go down to work and to ensure that all funds are being used for the intended purposes.
Mr. Speaker Sir, As MCP, we believe that if Malawi is to reduce the food gaps we need to seriously invest in irrigation rather going round and round giving mere cheap political rhetoric. MCP suggests the need for Malawi as a nation to focus on the following issues for irrigation agriculture: we need to allocate meaningful resources to irrigation; address the land related bills once and for all to solve the land issues that work against serious agribusiness investments in irrigation agriculture; engage in serious public private partnership arrangements with government taking up a key role in collateral investments in critical public goods and infrastructure (e.g. roads/air ports/railways, logistics etc.) to reduce the cost of doing business.
Time has not allowed me to comment on other pressing issues like:
Issues of international security
Issues of Electoral Reforms which are crucial to this country. MCP is always misunderstood on this issue yet we continue to hold countless seminars on electoral reforms and yet grow cold feet when it’s time for concrete decisions.
Mr. Speaker Sir, with these few remarks, I call upon all Malawians and fellow members of this house to resolve that the time for tolerating bed-time stories and the time for sleeping while our ship is sinking is over. I thank you Mr Speaker Sir, and thank you all for your kind attention.
God Bless you, God Bless Our Nation, Malawi