DR NANKHUMWA RESPONDS TO PRESIDENT CHAKWERA: Speaks tough on Malawi’s social and economic crises

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OFFICIAL RESPONSE BY HONOURABLE KONDWANI NANKHUMWA, MP, LEADER OF OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT TO PRESIDENT LAZARUS CHAKWERA’S NATIONAL ADDRESS INTRODUCTION

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press,

You will recall that on the evening of Tuesday, October 25, 2022, President Lazarus Chakwera made a televised address to the nation. The President outlined some of the measures that his Tonse Alliance administration is implementing, to clear the mess surrounding the Agriculture Input Programme (AIP).

You will also recall that as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, I gave a brief response, on the same evening, to the President’s National Address. I said the President did not address the many other social and economic challenges that the country currently faces, except for the chaotic AIP only. I, therefore, said I would soon be giving a comprehensive response, which is as follows:           

1. The Removal of Lobin Lowe

In his national address, President Chakwera touched on some of the pertinent issues that have bedeviled this year’s AIP. The chaos in the management of AIP this year obviously made the position of the now former Minister of Agriculture, Lobin Lowe, unattainable.

However, removing the Minister of Agriculture from his position is only just a small part of the whole story. Previously, we have seen the President firing and suspending public officers on corruption allegations with little or no follow up action to bring the issues to their logical conclusion. I am afraid this one does not look different, and I urge Malawians to put their excitement on hold.

Members of the Press,

During his national address, President Chakwera disclosed that their findings established that the Ministry of Agriculture, through the Smallholder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund of Malawi (SFFRFM) signed a contract and paid money to a UK company without following proper procurement procedures, including that both the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) were completely left out.

However, the President went to town and attacked a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture for allegedly misleading the nation that the amount that government has been swindled was K30 billion when it was actually K750 million. 

It was very wrong for President Chakwera to attack a whistle-blower in this saga. We all know that were it not for that ‘member’ of the Agriculture Committee of Parliament, Malawians would not have known that this government has been sloppy, and that it has been duped out of a huge amount of tax payer’s money. President Chakwera and his officers would have swept this matter under the carpet. In fact if there is a person Malawians have to thank, it is that MP for exposing this fraud.

As Leader of Opposition in Parliament, I will not sit idle and let President Chakwera belittle parliamentarians for simply doing their oversight duties in exposing the dirt of his Ministers. Parliament shall not be intimidated by utterances from the Head of State on matters such as the mismanagement of AIP or any other affecting the welfare of the nation. Our duty is to bring oversight to the Office of the President, and other agents of the Executive.

Members of Press,

Now that the President has seen it as necessary to clarify that the amount involved is K750 Million and not K30 billion, can he also clear the mist over the involvement of his cousin and daughter in the scam? After all, he has already set the ball rolling to clarify on the amount.  This saga is a no small matter, and Malawians would want to know more, especially about who did what in this whole theatre with tax payer’s money.

The President should have addressed the whole story; like who was responsible for identifying this agent? 

Members of the Press,

Why did officials at the Ministry of Finance not raise an alarm when they realized that procedures were being flouted? Who was the one at the forefront pushing for payment to this fake UK firm? This matter must be investigated for possible criminal collusion, money laundering and fraud.

When the President says the team was dispatched to UK to see the capacity of the company that will handle the AIP, was he not briefed on the name and the reputation of the company by the Minister? Why is President Chakwera failing to accept that he too is part of the mess? What happened first between paying this company and inspecting its capacity to deliver? There are so many gray areas that the President should have cleared.

Also, the new Minister of Agriculture was already a member of the Cabinet Committee on AIP before he became Chairman of the committee and eventually appointed as Minister of Agriculture replacing Lowe on the two positions. Malawians would be interested to know how much he knew of this fertilizer buying scheme as a member of the Cabinet Committee on AIP, and if he knew, what did he do about it.

I am saying this because we may be dealing with a case of a whole rotten fish from the head to the tail.

Members of the Press,

I am well aware that ordinarily, the cabinet committee is supposed to be briefed and knows the fertilizer procurement process from the top. I am talking about the amount involved; the names of suppliers, and as well, the people and institutions involved in the whole process. What is the mandate of this committee? Should we assume that it was sleeping?  

This is where this matter is not just about firing Lobin Lowe, it is a matter of incompetence of the whole cabinet. In fact, President Chakwera’s cabinet is a poisoned chalice that has failed him. He needs to seriously consider firing his whole cabinet (without regard to relationship or friendship) and hire another one that should work for Malawians in line with his new-found theme of ‘not working for political parties but working for Malawians’.

2. Reduction of AIP Beneficiaries

A few months ago, the former Minister of Agriculture announced a reduction of the number of AIP beneficiaries this year.

However, a leaked document of the number of AIP beneficiary this season makes for breathtaking reading. It appears the reduction of beneficiaries has only affected the southern and eastern regions. In some cases, the beneficiaries in one constituency in the central region are more than some districts in the southern and eastern regions.

In his national address, President Chakwera should have explained to Malawians the rationale behind these glaring disparities.

There are also allegations flying about that the Ministry of Agriculture is re-packing expired and left over fertilizer that was rejected last year to be distributed to farmers in this year’s AIP. This is a serious allegation and I urge the new Minister of Agriculture to quickly address the same and if it is true the public should know who is behind it and measures that are being taken to address the situation.

3. The ADMARC Situation

Since the former Minister of Agriculture announced the illegal closure of ADMARC, there is very little that Malawians now know as to what is happening at this public institution; an institution that has been key to their survival at household level for many decades. The communication that is coming from the Ministry of Agriculture regarding ADMARC has so far not been clear at all. In fact, it is not making sense at all!

A few days ago, ADMARC employees took to the streets demanding their pay from government in view of the pending retrenchments at the organization. But it seems there is currently no one who has the solution to their plea. It also means the closure of ADMARC was done haphazardly without a plan.

I do not need to emphasize the importance of ADMARC to the economy of this country, especially the critical role that it plays in the food security situation to the majority of poor Malawians. The President should have addressed this topical issue in his address to the nation.

Now, we hear ADMARC has been closed. We hear top management at ADMARC have been caught in fraud; we hear the new board, which the President himself appointed was engaged in financial mismanagement, hemorrhaging money in millions of Kwacha in fake board meetings. Now, we hear a friend of the President has allegedly stolen 18 trucks of public maize to sell it to Tanzania.

In his address to the nation, President Chakwera should have roundly explained how much he was told and how much he was not told about what is happening at ADMARC, including the strategy that is in place to take the organization forward. He should have assuaged the fears of ADMARC employees over their payment in view of the pending retrenchments.

For example, President Chakwera should have informed the nation that he has identified where his government will get the K8 billion to pay off the over 4,000 workers who will be let go from ADMARC following the decision to close the parastatal. Above all, the President should have explained to Malawians the powers that the former Minister of Agriculture used in closing ADMARC.

4. The Fuel and Forex Situation

President Chakwera should also have addressed the fuel and forex situation in his national address. Malawians are entitled to know the status of the fuel and forex situation in the country as of now, and the progress that has been made thus far after he promised to fix the situation over two months ago.

Members of the Press,

Queues at filling stations are still a case of gone today, here tomorrow, and it is clear we are not out of the woods yet. The national address presented a fine opportunity for the President to inform Malawians what is happening.

The impact of lack of forex is still being felt in almost every sector of the economy. It is a problem that cannot just be wished away. For example, the health sector is currently on its knees because there is no forex to procure essential medicines and equipment to deliver its services.

An official from Kamuzu Central Hospital disclosed recently that 10 percent of all their admissions die, often from curable diseases due to the lack of medicine at the hospital. This is a very sad reality, and the President missed an opportunity to illuminate to Malawians what his government is doing to address this situation.

5. Attitude to People’s Freedoms

Let me also not miss this opportunity to talk about this government’s attitude to human rights and people’s freedoms. It is a fact that the Tonse Alliance government does not respect human rights and freedom of the press.

Since this government came to power slightly over two years ago, Malawians have enjoyed less and less freedoms. We have seen arbitrary arrests of people just for commenting on social media.

Some freedom fighters were arrested last Friday just for exercising their right to demonstrate, and to demand competence from this government.

I wish to remind President Chakwera that he is a product of demonstrations in that his government came to power at the back of demonstrations.

The previous DPP government allowed Malawians to demonstrate because we respect and uphold the values of human rights and democracy. 

As I am talking, MACRA has closed down several radio and TV stations for reasons that could have been resolved at a round table. I have no doubt this is another of Tonse Alliance government’s strategy to remove independent and private media from the political space as we move towards 2025.

6. Plight of Primary School Teachers

The importance of primary education in any country cannot be overemphasized. This is where pupils are shaped to become the human beings that the country would rely upon to develop this country. 

But the way Tonse Alliance government is treating Primary School teachers is a clear indication that there is very little investment in this critical sector of education.

Apart from the fact that Primary School teacher graduates are taking long before being taken on board and assimilated into the education system, the Ministry of Education is forcing them to apply and work as auxiliary teachers where they are being paid K80, 000 per month. As auxiliary teachers, these fully trained teachers end up missing out on some privileges that are enjoyed by full time teachers such as CPD trainings and other disciplines.

I wish to urge President Chakwera and his government to think about primary school teachers. Training them alone is only just part of the whole story. Let President Chakwera start walking his campaign talk. And right now. 

7. Plight of Chanco Students

Members of the Press,

You are also aware that the University of Malawi Chancellor Collage has been closed today due to an impasse that students have with University management over their school calendar, a situation, which led to students staging vigils at the campus. 

I would like to urge President Lazarus Chakwera not to stand aside and watch this situation degenerate into something more serious than it is now. Chanco students are worried that it is taking seven years just to get a degree due to, among other things, unplanned closures like these.

Let me remind President Chakwera about what he said when he was campaigning for the presidency and I quote: “Universities and colleges will never be closed during our time”.

Mr. President, this is your time. As Chancellor of the University of Malawi, you must make sure that you are on top of the Chanco situation before you take to the skies, once again, this time to Egypt. As they say a stitch in time saves nine.

8. Mass Grave(s) in the Northern Region 

Members of the Press,

Over a week ago, Malawi made international headlines when a mass grave where over 25 bodies believed to be illegal immigrants from Ethiopia were found. I am not sure about what President Chakwera thinks, but I looked at this as a very serious matter regarding presidential attention and treatment.

This is an extremely serious security matter that warranted high-level attention. How did these people die? Were they killed? Who killed them? Are our borders porous? How did they found themselves in our territory without following legal procedures? What do our immigration laws say? Where were the law-enforcing agencies; sleeping on the job?

Members of the Press,

In his address to the nation, the President should have mentioned, or at least show some attention to the issue, including explaining what his government is doing to get to the bottom of the issue. But once more the President passed up the issue thereby sending the message that it does not concern him and does not warrant presidential attention.

9. Address Empty Talk-shop

Members of the Press,

President Chakwera’s address to the nation was, once again, an empty talk-shop where the President comes guns blazing, projecting the image that he is the lion when he is, in fact, a cat.  As usual, the President missed an opportunity to bring Malawians up to speed on issues that are currently critical to the nation and affecting their daily lives.

Once again, President Chakwera chose to speak with a forked tongue on issues where he needed to be explicit for Malawians to know what the government they voted for is doing on critical issues involving public resources.

Members of the Press,

I had expected the President Chakwera to tackle issues roundly and in depth. It is very unfortunate that the President, once again, missed that opportunity.

I wish to reiterate that firing Lobin Lowe alone is not going to make food and water adequately available in prisons. Malawians are struggling to buy a bag of maize at K22, 000, more so a bag of fertilizer at K70, 000. Malawians are struggling to pay school fees for their children and dependents; they are buying a packet of brown sugar at K1, 500; power blackouts are the order of the day; and generally, the cost of living has become unbearable. The President may have considered addressing matters directly affecting people’s livelihood.

10. Call to Action

Members of the Press,

As I have said it before, more than once, a true and servant leader is known during a crisis. Malawi is in a crisis and it is the duty and responsibility of President Chakwera to take urgent measures to avoid plunging the country into a complete ‘Failed State’.

I, therefore, wish to urge President Chakwera to rise up to the occasion and immediately do the following:

a.      Dissolve the whole cabinet and appoint a lean one of about 18 members to cut on spending;

b.      Reduce the number of presidential advisors. This advisory task can be performed by cabinet ministers;

c.      Draw from the country’s food reserves and start distributing relief food to the affected people across the country;

d.      Suspend presidential local and international trips as they are a huge drain on public resources both in forex and local currency;

e.      Reduce the presidential motorcade as most of the vehicles there are fuel guzzlers;

f.       Introduce food for work and public works programs to cushion poor Malawians;

g.      Extend social cash transfers to all districts in the country and increase the number of beneficiaries in the process;

h.      Reduce some fuel levies forthwith;

i.       Introduce deliberate policies like tax holidays to allow more investors in the country that shall translate into more job creation and stabilize the country’s economy;

j.       Increase tax free band (PAYE) from K100 to K200, 000;

k.      Review policy that stopped government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) from conducting lakeside conferences as this policy has resulted in massive job cuts in the tourism sector;

l.       Reduce the number of Principal Secretaries (PSs). Some ministries have up to four (4) Principal Secretaries and this is a disaster;

m.     Employ IPTE teachers and absorb them into the system;

n.      Send food to all prisons and hospitals across the country;

o.      Go back to the drawing board and restructure AIP;

p.      Ban imports of some perishables like tomatoes, vegetables and Irish potatoes as this shall serve forex and empower local suppliers from Tsangano, Bvumbwe, Lizulu, and Jenda, among others; and

q.      Effect a ban on maize exports.

CONCLUSION

Members of the Press,

You will recall that at my recent Press Conference in Blantyre, I warned President Chakwera that I would personally lead mass anti-government protests should the sorry status quo remain. But as we all know, we just witnessed demonstrations in our major cities last Thursday and Friday. So, it would not be prudent on my part to be talking about demonstrations again right now.

But for now, I wish to strongly urge President Chakwera to immediately and as a matter of urgency, call for AN ALL-INCLUSIVE NATIONAL CONSULTATIVE CONFERENCE where all stakeholders such as religious leaders, the academia, the business community, university student representative, traditional leaders, civil service representative, human rights defenders, and political party leaders, among others, should be invited.

The main objective of such a conference would be to create a common platform for common solutions to our common national challenges.

Let me emphasize, however, that the option to demonstrate is NOT completely out of the cards. I will fully support any upcoming demonstrations in order to pump some sense into this government.

Let me conclude by quoting the new British Prime Minister, Rushi Sunak: “Leadership is not selling fairytales. It is confronting challenges”. President Chakwera may choose to learn from this wisdom.

I THANK YOU FOR COMING and MAY GOD BLESS MALAWI

Honourable Kondwani Nankhumwa, MP

LEADER OF OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT

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