MALAWI PRESS REVIEW April 2010
From Centre For Social Concern (see our house)
News clippings with analysis
From the Major newspapers
Compiled by the
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632
LIST OF NEWSPAPERS REVIEWED
Daily Times, Malawi News, The Weekly News, The Nation,
The Weekend Nation, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Chronicle,
Nation on Sunday,
Consumer Association in Malawi CAMA in April did what should have been done so many years ago. The march against banks in Malawi is long overdue but should all in all be commended. It is better that it was done because it also acted as an eye opener to some people who never thought there is a problem in the way banks handle customers in Malawi.
To get a loan from the banks in Malawi the customer is subjected to a high interest rate, not to mention the long and boring process that has to be gone through. After repayments one realizes that one has been ripped off instead of being helped with the bank loan. Surprisingly there is not much interest gained when one saves money in the same banks.
Banks in Malawi do not explain the charges to customers. An example is that of the service charges they extract from people's savings when they use the auto teller machines. The thing is when one opens an account they are never told of what to expect. It would not be surprising to hear that the majority of customers were never told about the deductions that they would be subjected to.
Other charges like on Internet banking are not justifiable because the moment one is banking electronically the workload of bank tellers is lessened. Why charge the client then?
As if this is not enough customers are made to stand in a queue for hours in banking halls. This happens when some bank authorities are around and do not bother to assign more tellers to vacant tills.
Auto teller machines should have been there to assist people around the clock. But this is not the case because these machines are always breaking down when people need service most. At night, on weekends, and month ends, one hardly finds these machines useful. There is either no network or they break down.
For those in rural areas the situation is even worse because there is no way people can take out a bank loan. One wonders who exactly these banks really want serve if the people in rural areas are not attended to.
We can only hope that the contents of the petition that the CAMA marchers handed over to Reserve Bank of Malawi will be addressed. Similarly perhaps Malawi needs more of such activities of that some of these service delivery organizations can wake up from the deep slumber.
One can never understand what exactly is going on in the Malawi Congress Party MCP. At present there is a Taskforce for Change that is fighting the incumbent leader of the party Honourable John Tembo. To the surprise of many some people left the Taskforce to form another faction fighting Tembo. Some observers have noted that their strategy might not work because a lot of energy will be wasted in fighting between the two groups. To date it is not known if Tembo will step down from being the party's president because he has received a lot of pressure from some of the members in the MCP who say that he has to go if the party is to survive.
The story began with the Vice President Mrs. Joyce Banda publicly accusing the state owned Malawi Television of not airing the functions she attends on the station. Some people thought it was just an oversight on the part of the television production crew. Little did people know that there was more to come. The Ministry of Health dropped a bombshell when it announced it had removed the Vice President as the African Union Goodwill Ambassador. Banda, who had performed to people's expectation in the short time that she had been the ambassador, has also been facing a lot of problems targeted at her office such as late funding. According to some experts there is more to this than what meets the eye following all the frustrations that the Vice President is facing.
President Bingu wa Mutharika married Callista Chapola at a ceremony that attracted thousands of guests both local and international. According to members of the organizing committee, sponsors for the wedding are State House well-wishers. This is a question that has been asked now and again among some observers. One can only hope that Mutharika who has always preached against the use of state resources for personal matters has followed his own advice.
The Democratic Progress Party DPP in the month of April asked its suspended members to apologies to the party if they want to be taken back. The three members of parliament from the northern region were suspended from the party after they commented in parliament on the controversial quota system of selecting students for public universities. Initially the DPP had agreed never to mention or comment about the issue in the National Assembly. But the three suspended MPs went against the party's stand and took government to task over the issue. Some observers feel the fact that the party suspended the three MPs means that DPP is still not democratic. The suspended MPs have since refused to apologies because they feel they were representing the views of their constituencies.
Parliamentarians now move to their new premises courtesy of the Chinese government. The Taiwanese government started the multimillion project before Malawi severed its relationship with Taiwan opting for the People's Republic of China (PRC). Although many observers condemned the way Malawi handled the whole issue, finally it has become clear what government was up to. One of the fruits of Malawi's relationship with PRC is the magnificent state of the art parliament building in the Capital City.
The Malawi nation mourned the death of a veteran politician Aleke Kadonamphani Banda. AKB as many Malawians fondly called him will be remembered as a man who contributed a lot to Malawi in many ways through politics and journalism. Banda, who died at 71, started politics when he was only 14 years. Among other things AKB owned one of the daily papers The Nation, served in Cabinet in various ministries in both late Hastings Kamuzu Banda and Dr Bakili Muluzi's administration. The late Aleke Banda will be remembered for his hard working spirit. Banda died in South Africa after along battle with Cancer.
As it has always been a tradition Minister of Finance Ken Kandodo conducted pre budget consultation meetings across the nation recently. Kandodo met various sectors of society to get input on the formulation of the budget. During this year's consultations people asked to raise the starting point for PAYE to K15,000.00 a month. At present only the first K10,000.00 is non-taxable. Civil society feels K10,000.00 is on the low side. With the cost of living on food costs being at K24,000.00 per month the current non-taxable amount is not enough for families to put food on the table. Therefore, it would only make sense if government increased the non-taxable band for low-income earners in the next budget.
The issue of tax dominated the press in the month under review. The Malawi Economic Justice Network MEJN noted that it is high time vendors started paying taxes. It is not a secret that many vendors make a lot of money compared to some employees in Malawi. But the vendors are left scot-free when junior employees are squeezed to pay tax from their small salaries. Possibly with some collections from the vendors government would be able to one or to service delivery issues.
Meanwhile civil society has proposed that the budget consultations should be carried out in January. This would give room for the ministry to include what stakeholders would like to be included in the budget. At present the pre budget consultations are done some weeks after government departments have made their estimates. At the same time the current setup leaves no room for government to incorporate what other stakeholders want to be included because by the time the consultations have taken place, the budget is already drafted. If government considers this proposal the budget could safely be called our budget because all stakeholders would feel they are part of it.
Although economic experts have disclosed that there is a change in the Forex reserves, other commentators have different views. While some feel the situation is now improving for the better others have contrary views. Other economists have said although the tobacco-selling season is in progress, and so the improvement in the Forex situation could be temporary. According to the Economics Association of Malawi ECAMA, Malawi should save now when there is a lot of Forex in circulation because of the tobacco sales. ECAMA's observation should be taken into consideration because the past financial year Malawi experienced the worst Forex shortage in years and perhaps saving now could be one of the solutions to the problem.
Malawi's success story on food security is indeed a shining example to some countries in Africa. Neighbouring countries still are at pains to understand how Malawi has made it. From a country that used to beg food from other countries, Malawi now affords to export some of its maize to other countries. Coupled with good rains and the timely subsidized fertilizers Malawi has indeed enjoyed bumper yields in recent years. President Bingu wa Mutharika's administration introduced the subsidised farm input programme and this is what could safely be said to be the reason behind the country's improved food situation.
Although government reduced the price of subsidized fertilizer from K1,000 to K500 per bag, some organizations feel the price should go back to the previous amount. President Bingu wa Mutharika made an announcement of the new price at a political rally before the 2009 general elections. To date people still buy the subsidized fertilizer at K500 per bag despite all the price increases in other costs like transportation. Against this background some organizations feel the price should be raised. Raising the price will assist government to increase the number of beneficiaries.
On the other hand some experts have also encouraged farmers to stop using fertilizers because there is a cheaper and more natural way of realizing high crop yields. This is the use of manure. Despite the reduction in price of subsidised fertilizers, some people still find it very hard to buy enough for their farms. Such farmers should look no further but try manure and use it in their gardens.
On several occasions the issue of food shortage in some areas has come about in the press. It is not surprising to hear of areas like the Lower Shire that have always come up as places where there is a food shortage year in year out. This year again the Lower Shire experienced floods, which resulted in crops being washed away. According to Vice President Mrs. Joyce Banda there is no need to delay in making food distribution to the people in the districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje.
Still on the issue of food shortage, government predicted that the southern region would be affected by hunger. According to predictions this year's harvest is expected to fall by 20-50%. With this percentage it is evident that some areas which had plenty of food last year will go without this year. This situation has come about following months of dry spells in some districts during the 2009/2010 seasons. Press reports have shown that in Nsanje the food situation is estimated at almost zero. This means there is no food at all in the district, and that the district will depend on relief food items from stakeholders.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS
In the month of April, local government minister Goodall Gondwe announced that people can now start campaigning for the local government elections. Surprisingly there has not been any announcement from the Electoral Commission that the local government elections will take place. To date there is no electoral calendar for civil society organizations to start with preparations for the elections. One wonders how stakeholders will operate without the electoral calendar. It should be noted that some civil society organizations have on several occasions condemned government for not showing commitment on holding the elections.
The Council of Churches in the month under review expressed concerns over the death of two children who died after their mother failed to take them to hospital because of their faith. The Zionist faithful do not go to hospitals when they fall sick. The death of the children, who are rumoured to have been suffering from measles, sparked a lot of debates with some people wondering why this had to happen to the innocent souls. Although the Council of Churches in Malawi is an umbrella body of churches it failed to take the church to task.
Issues of tax enjoyed media publicity in the month of April. With the pre-budget consultation being conducted in the same month, it was one of the issues that was discussed at length. The Centre for Social Concern also added its voice when it launched its report on Taxation Justice. According to CFSC Malawians from all walks of life want the tax-free band to be raised. CFSC proposes that tax-free band should rise from K10,000 to K25,000 because the cost of food items is currently at K25,000. The monthly Basic Needs Basket carried out by CFSC reveals that the cost of living is around K50,000 for a family of six.
A monthly survey by CFSC also noted that salaries of many unskilled workers are very low. This is at the time when cost of living is on the increase. One wonders how these unskilled workers cope with life. The monthly survey shows that the salaries for unskilled workers range from K3,000-10,000. Now with the minimum wage still at K129 per day it still remains very difficult for people to survive.
Homosexuality issues are still getting a lot of press coverage. Ever since Tionge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza got engaged in a traditional ceremony that was held in Blantyre a lot of debates have come about. It is only fair that different people have come out with various views on the topic. The courts in Malawi have already indicated that the gay couples have a case to answer. President Bingu wa Mutharika recently condemned homosexuality in Malawi.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE
The consumer rights body Consumers Association of Malawi CAMA recently conducted a campaign against poor services in banks in Malawi. For a very long time people have been complaining about the long queues in banking halls and at Auto Teller Machines ATMs. On several occasions there have been reports of bank charges that go unexplained. Because of this tendency many people do not even ask about the unexplained charges on their bank statements. Surprisingly the banks in Malawi do not even bother to educate the people of the charges they should expect. To add to the long list of troubles that people go through at the banks the ATMs break down every now and then.
The Reserve Bank Governor Perks Ligoya also noted that the congestion in banks could only mean that banks are failing to serve people better. Among other things there have been cries from the low-income earners over tough conditions and interest rates that banks charge when one wants to take out a loan. In April a number of commentators complained over the conditions that banks attach to loans. Perhaps the handing over of the petition to the Reserve Bank of Malawi will sort out some of the issues that the consumers are complaining about.
Newsreaders in April woke up to a shocking revelation that some residents in the city of Lilongwe are eating from waste. It could be because of poverty that some people have resorted to have their meals from the waste. Press reports have disclosed that a group of youngsters collect some foodstuffs, such as eggs and chickens, from the dumping site and sell them to desperate people at lower prices. It is not clear whether the blame should be on the city assembly for failing to manage the dumping site or the people that get the waste and rotten foodstuffs that end up on people's tables.
Strange stories continue to infest the media in Malawi lately. Much as issues of prostitution have been among us, the trend has been to sweep such stories under the carpet. It has always been a rare occurrence to read a story of prostitution in the press. Lately the trend has changed with front pages of newspapers carrying such stories. Just recently the press disclosed that some old rich women are sleeping around with 18 year olds. Such a revelation has attracted mixed reactions from with some people condemning the older women while others are blaming the teenage boys. Civil society and religious leaders have also condemned such acts of moral decay.
With its minimal resources Malawi's population continues to increase continuously. A recent survey disclosed that Malawian women are more fertile and can have more than six children in their lifetime, and that a Malawian family has an average of 6 children. Bearing this in mind government has proposed that each family should therefore have four children only if we are to take care of the fast growing population rate for Malawi.
To a layperson it does not make sense when government continues to say that there is a shortage of teachers because of what has been appearing in the press. Press reports have shown that government has trained many teachers, but that more than 400 have not been assigned jobs. It is a pity that after years in college the trained teachers are failing to get jobs in the ministry of education. One wonders how the issue of shortage of teachers is going to be addressed if teachers are not given jobs.
As Malawi is trying its best to achieve some of its goals in education, there are still some hurdles that the country is facing. For instance the goal on Education For All EFAs cannot be fulfilled if girls do not have no equal access as women. Press reports have disclosed that a number of girls are dropping out of school because of lack of toilets. Unlike boys, girls need a lot of care when it comes to sanitation. Evidence has shown that in schools where there are no toilets there are always high cases of absenteeism among girls. Press reports have shown that there is a proposal that for every toilet that is built for boys there should be four toilets for girls.
The girl child continues to face a lot of challenges in the education sector. A lot has been said about male teachers who force girls into sexual relationships. Some unlucky girls have dropped out from school after falling pregnant. At the same time some are still in school but continue to be victims of sexual abuse. This trend has resulted in girls performing poorly in class. It is against this background that a group of women activists in Nsanje has taken the ministry of education to task for not doing enough to curb the problem. This tendency should indeed be dealt with so that the future of the girl-child is safeguarded.
In April the Minister of Education shut down Mbidzi Community Day Secondary School. The school, which is allocated at low-density area in the heart of the capital city, had no proper structures. It is reported that there were no classrooms, proper toilets, no desks and proper offices. The closing down of Mbidzi has opened a big debate with people wondering why the ministry chose students to go and start form one at the Mbidzi school year in year out. On the other hand some people feel it is good that the school has closed down because it will give the authorities a job to put the CDSS back into good shape.
There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as regards the future of aspiring nurses in Malawi. After a number of organizations and individuals had made noise in support of the nurses training in Malawi, government promised to do something about the issue. At present there is a handful of would be nurses in the training schools because of the exorbitant fees that the institutions are charging. This has raised fears among Malawians because already there are shortages of nurses in government hospitals. Now the recent announcement that government might consider paying scholarships to aspiring students has put smiles on the faces of many people in the country.
The Ministry of Health refuted claims that there is Anti Retroviral ARV theft in the country. This came after the press disclosed that some people had stolen cartons of ARV drugs. ARVs are not like any other drugs because these are expensive and only trained doctors give out prescriptions. Now it is very scary when such drugs are found on the local market. To begin with the ARVs are now being given out to AIDS patients for free and it does not make sense when people steal the same drugs that are supposed to assist the people who are sick. The assurance by the Ministry of Health that there are no ARV thefts may put people's minds at ease.
Debates on mandatory HIV/AIDS testing continued to dominate press coverage in April. The proposal to introduce mandatory HIV/AIDS testing has attracted mixed reactions from various organisations and individuals. While some doctors feel the idea should not be entertained because it will only create more problems, some doctors are of the contrary view. They feel it is right and proper for government to put in place mandatory HIV/AIDS testing because it will reduce the number of new infections if people know their status. Human rights organisations have also added their voice to those who are against the introduction of mandatory test.
The vaccination campaign that the Ministry of Health organized against measles ended in the April. The Ministry of Health embarked on the campaign after a series of reports disclosed a number of measles cases in some parts of the country. In Mangochi, Blantyre and Lilongwe Under Five children were admitted to hospitals after they were diagnosed of measles. Although the ministry raised awareness about the vaccination for weeks the government did not have enough funds to conduct the exercise. This is evident by the fact that there was also shortage of the vaccine in some of the centres. To date it is not clear if government met its target during the exercise.
Climate change is what the press is talking about in recent times. Not a single day passes without the issue being mentioned in the press. Just recently the press carried articles on how Malawi can face climate change and its challenges. Among other things there has been a change in the rainfall pattern. The 2009/2010-rainfall pattern could be safely attributed to the change in climate.
Weather experts in the month under review quashed reports that Malawi would receive acid rain in the month under review. Rumours had been circulating through emails, phone calls and text messages warning Malawians about acid rainfall. Among other things people were being warned against exposing themselves to the rain. Some went to the extent of telling people that once one is exposed to the acid rain they would get skin cancer. But the weather experts came to people's rescue by assuring the nation that Malawi will not, will never have acid rainfall. This assurance from the experts put people's fears to rest because some had planned to continue causing unnecessary alarm.
Although the rainy season has just come to an end some areas still face a lot of water shortages. Residents in the major cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe, have in recent months been living with the problem much to the annoyance of the residents because they always get bills at the end of every month. The problem has been there for some time and there is need for a lasting solution to it. Some observers have noted that only if authorities had built enough reservoirs and dams this problem would have abated.
Press reports on environment in April have shown that there is now a lot of focus on environment issues. Environmentalists have noted that the focus is now more geared on environment issues in some African countries more than politics and wars. Although this is the case evidence has shown that there is still less information on the subject. The media therefore should play a major role in disseminating information on it.
The ordinary people should be educated on questions such as what exactly is environment, and what people can do to avoid preventable problems. Media reports have time and again shown that government is now serious enough to stop tree felling in order to have firewood or charcoal. One cannot fail to see policemen manning roadblocks and yet lorries ferry loads of charcoal pass through the same spots everyday. One question that lingers in people's minds is how these lorries pass through roadblocks.
Some farmers complained over the department of forestry's seedlings during the tree-planting season. Press reports have revealed that under the President Bingu wa Mutharika's tree initiatives seedlings were not distributed throughout the country.
Some gender activists in April spoke against the removal of Vice President Joyce Banda as AU goodwill ambassador. Mrs. Banda who is well known for her undying support for women will surely be missed by some of her beneficiaries. The fact that Malawi has a female Vice President was a boost to the women empowerment battle. The AU ambassador position also added weight to the same cause. Now that Honourable Banda was removed in questionable circumstances, Malawians are baffled as to why exactly a woman who seemed to have performing well in her duties was removed.
One of the forms of gender-based violence is property grabbing. On a number of occasions people have thought that gender based violence only means physical abuse on women and children. But those that have had their property taken away after the death of their spouse are also suffering another form of gender-based violence. Evidence has shown that in most cases after divorce or death of a spouse the property that the couple acquired is shared anyhow or taken away. For this reason an organization called Women in Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust WILSA wants to make sure that there is equal access sharing of property between spouses after divorce.
The gender ministry in the month under review announced it would establish more than 300 Victim Support Units. With the increasing cases of gender based violence the ministry wants to help in any way possible. Some years have passed since the Domestic Violence Bill was passed into a law but cases of gender-based violence still continue to haunt authorities. While some of the cases are reported in the press some go unnoticed. This situation has given the responsible ministry a huge task. It is against this background that the gender ministry is establishing Victim Support Units across the nation. These will at least assist the abused with counselling and rehabilitation.
Although a number of women in some parts of the country know their rights to own property, some of the cultural practices are still hindering their efforts. One example is that of women in Mzimba who make little decisions on proceeds from their sweat after harvest. Similarly the same women have no access to land because of the patriarchal system. At the same time women continue to suffer different forms of discrimination. This is the reason why some women in the district have asked government to speed up laws that would empower them.
Media reports in recent times have shown that more and more small girls are being defiled either by strangers or by their fathers or stepfathers. The soft jail sentences being passed by courts have failed to deter these criminals. These small girls are future mothers of the nation, and surely the government authorities should protect them. Democracy does not in any way mean sentencing these criminals with a couple of months in jail. The Malawi nation needs tough handling of such cases if peace and calm are to be the trademark of the country.
Fr. Bill Turnbull
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632