MALAWI PRESS REVIEW June 2010
From Centre For Social Concern (see our house)
News clippings with analysis
From the Major newspapers in Malawi
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,
The Budget Deficit and Our Reliance on Foreign funding of the Budget
The media rightly observed, "that history was written on Tuesday, June 23 when parliament easily passed the K297 billion 2010/11 national budget in just two days." What happened is that in so doing, our representatives in parliament have committed us to a total revenues and grants of up to 287 billion, from which 70% is domestic revenue and grants 30%. As a nation, we would have the total expenditure, including net lending, of 297 billion. Our budget deficit for 2010/11 would be 9.9 billion; meaning that 1.2% of GDP will be financed through foreign borrowing.
Let us draw our attention to two facts here, to wit, our reliance on grants and the size of our budget deficit. As the nation has committed itself to such expenditure, there is a worrisome factor that it would still heavily rely on grants to fund 30% of it. Such heavy reliance on grants to funding government expenditure presents some unique challenges. First, grants are highly unpredictable and may be withheld whenever the government does not meet donor expectations. This unpredictability means that it is difficult for government to commit to long-term expenditure programmes. Second, a high level of grants flowing into the country can crowd out other productive activities, such as focusing on a just and progressive taxation mechanism.
Turning to the deficit, more than often, this element of every budget arouses genuine concerns, particularly that the 2010/11 one would be a daunting double of the 2009/10 that stood at 5 billion. A budget deficit occurs when an entity (in this case government) spends more that it takes in. A governmental deficit simply translates into more financing by borrowing. In most cases, such fiscal deficits are largely financed by short-term borrowing, for instance through treasure bills issued by the central bank for sale to domestic banks. The consequences of using short-term instruments (which carry high interests rates) to bridge the budget deficit are that our nation faces very high domestic debt servicing which would be rising every year, with painful percentages of the GDP. In a nutshell, large and persistent deficits push up interest rates, reduce investment and create a burden of indebtedness that is difficult for government and taxpayers to bear. Most importantly, large and persistent deficits compromise the living standards of current and future generations.
When it comes to budget deficit, one single question comes to be of importance; is our government in the habit of overspending on activities of little benefit to the common person/poor, such as the purchase of the Presidential Jet, the foreseen changing of the flag, etc.
In conclusion, what we need to remind ourselves of, is that our economic decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, advance or diminish the quality of justice in the country. Accordingly, we need to measure our Nation's budget not only by what it might produce, but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person.
Contrary to what president Bingu wa Mutharika has always said in his statements, that he would try as much as possible to avoid using public resources, his party is doing the opposite. Recent reports on abuses involving his Democratic Progressive Party DPP seem to be in contrast with Mutharika's promises. In his inauguration speech when he was being sworn in a President of the Malawi nation, Mutharika again and again vowed to tow a line between state and party resources. The President, who is also leader of the ruling DPP, made it clear that his government would make sure that state resources are not used for political party functions. Recent reports that the DPP is using government offices in Mzuzu are not only bad for the party but also tarnish its image. As a nation Malawians expect the president's party to lead by example and therefore DPP should try its level best to avoid such abuses. It does not make sense to preach about good governance and respect to state properties when the DPP is failing to do just that.
Members of Parliament were at it again when they asked government to increase their fuel allowances. For starters these are a group of people who earn more than K400,000.00 a month and have numerous allowances. When Parliament is in session the MPs get a whopping K20,000.00 per day. As if this is not enough the same MPs request exorbitant amounts of money just to attend any meetings organized by any organization. Just early this month at a meeting organized by the Malawi Economic Justice Network MEJN in Lilongwe civil society organizations complained over the fat allowances that legislators ask for when they are invited to meetings. A lot has been said of the lawmakers who are always putting their interests before that of their employers (the people that voted). It should be noted that the electorate will surely have the last and loudest laugh come 2014 during the next general elections.
Although the legislators claim K20,000.00 daily allowance press reports have disclosed that some MPs fail to attend the deliberations for no apparent reason. This prompted the speaker of the National Assembly Henry Chimunthu Banda to warn all MPs who are fond of absenting themselves from deliberations. The Speaker has vowed to deduct the daily K20,000.00 allowances from any legislator who does not attend a sitting. This means the more one does not attend sitting the more money the speaker will be deduct from their allowances. So far a number of people have commended the speaker's stand because this is the only way some MPs will take parliamentary business seriously.
As if this is not enough the MPs were at it again asking government to give them 50% of what cabinet ministers get. One may never know whether these MPs know where to draw a line between personal enrichment and their main job to look after the welfare of their constituents. It is now becoming a habit for MPs to advocate for issues that will only enrich their pockets.
The question of opposition in the National Assembly will finally be laid to rest after the court ruling, which was in favour of Malawi Congress Party leader John Tembo. Even the speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda now recognizes the Honourable Tembo as the leader and has since stopped people from commenting on the issue in the National Assembly. It should be noted that the issue of leader of opposition in the August House have been causing a lot of controversies for some time now and the fact that it is now settled puts people's minds to rest.
Observers and other political analysts are still at pains to understand why the DPP led government is abusing its majority in the National Assembly. For the first time in the history of Malawi, Parliament cruised through the committee of supply session. Both government and opposition sides of the national assembly are expected to scrutinize the budget allocations in the most constructive way. But what happened during this sitting the house passed 45 votes in only two and half hours. In normal circumstance this takes close to at least two to three days. This scenario has not pleased some observers who feel government is abusing its numbers by bulldozing the opposition who are in minority.
Some members of the United Democratic Front UDF have expressed different views over the fees that aspirants of positions at district level should pay. The General Secretary of the UDF Kennedy Makwangwala announced that anyone vying for positions at district level should pay K2,000.00. The party leadership feels this is one of the ways that would help the UDF realize funds now that it has no known donor. Previously former president Dr Bakili Muluzi was the sole financier of the party. After announcing his exist from active politics Dr Muluzi who was also the party's chairman stopped funding the party. While some members are in agreement with this arrangement others feel the amount is too much and discriminatory because some aspirants might not be able to raise the money. Whatever the case the UDF should indeed find means of funding the party and its convention later this year.
In June government announced that Malawi had cut donor dependency to 30%. To begin with it is only some few years ago when almost half of the country's national budget depended on funds from foreign aid. In the past Malawi was mainly relying on donor support for its national budget to the extent that when the donors delayed with funds then some of the projects were doomed. Now the latest development on donor dependency at least gives Malawi some kind of ownership in as far as funding the budget is concerned. Could we say Malawi is making strides in becoming an independent state?
Some positive news on the economy continued to flow in the press in the month of June. The Malawi nation seems to be in the good books of the World Bank in as far as foreign exchange is concerned. The international body announced that it is impressed with how Malawi is managing to keep forex in the country. These comments come after some months of forex shortages. The World Bank among other things made it clear that it was also impressed with the current imports cover. It could be the sales of tobacco and other measures taken by government in ensuring that forex remains in the country.
The country got even more praises from other key players in development but not without some caution. Some stakeholders in June praised Malawi for minimizing its external debt and further advised government to use with care the funds that already been borrowed. However economic analysts have again warned government not to go without other developmental projects because it wants to avoid more debts. It should be noted that Malawi had its debt cancelled in 2006. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund IMF cancelled Malawi's debt after an impressive fiscal discipline.
As the sales of tobacco continue the recent recommendation by the World Health Organization WHO to ban burley manufacturing has raised fears among farmers. The world body recently made it known that since April this year it would ban burley manufacturing because of additives used in manufacturing burley cigarettes. This development has been received with a pinch of salt among some farmers who feel it would make them lose their jobs and income. On several occasions experts have wondered why to date there is no alternative to tobacco in terms of forex generation. If experts came up with other options the WHO ban would not be a cause for alarm among the two million farmers that will be affected by the ban. Tobacco is also Malawi's main foreign exchange earner.
It seems president Bingu wa Mutharika's plans of turning Malawi from an importing to an exporting nation are now shaping. The recent release of an annual economic report done by the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning is evidence to this. It indicates that Malawi exported more goods in the year 2009 compared to 2008. In fact there was an 8% increase of imports in 2009. If the upward trend continues the figures could change for the better and hence improving the circulation of forex and imports cover for the country.
A lot of stories continue to be covered in the press about the successes of manure. At present there are some people who solely depend on manure and have bumper yields year in year out. Success stories of such farmers have been in the press and this is evidence that manure is also contributing to the food security. Of late organizations and concerned players have been advocating for the use of manure in farms as one way of running away from fertilizers. It should be noted that government recently launched a manure making campaign.
With just some months to the next farming season all stakeholders are geared up making sure that everything is set for the distribution of fertilizers. In the past months there have been reports that there were a lot of discrepancies during the exercise. Some of the reports include unavailability of the farm inputs at the time farmers needed them most. To date some Members of Parliament still complain that very few people access the coupons despite being on the list of beneficiaries. This problem surely needs a lot of efforts from all players in the distribution of coupons and the exercise as a whole. Ever since the farm input subsidy programme started the media has written about these shortfalls. Now latest reports that seed companies are getting prepared for the exercise are good because it gives hope to all farmers that perhaps everything is going to be done in a manner that will suit all beneficiaries.
Issues on hunger continue to make headlines in the press recently. While other reports are applauding Malawi for being a food secured nation, some citizens of the nation have no food. The media has disclosed that over 78,000 people have no access to food and surely need food aid. The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee MVAC announced there are people in some eight districts in the Southern Region that need food aid. The situation in the Southern Region district of Machinga in Msanama is even worse because inhabitants have been hit hard and are now eating maize husks.
Nutrition experts disclosed that the intake of fish among Malawians is dwindling. It is reported that the fish consumption among has fallen tremendously raising fears of high levels of malnutrition. There is hope that this situation could change for the better. Media reports have shown that there are now new initiatives that would help in increasing the consumption among Malawians like the Bingu Initiative that is expected to help increase fish production.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS
Civil society organizations in June condemned government for banning private media organization from airing VVIP functions. The announcement, which came through the Ministry of Information and Civic Education, banned all other radio stations, newspapers and photojournalists from covering VVIP functions live. This development has left some civil society organizations wondering why government is coming up with issues that would suppress freedom of the press. To date the ministry of information has not come up with a good identification of what exactly VVIP functions are.
As the day to the Local Government Elections draws nearer, some individuals and organizations have expressed concerns over political parties' conduct towards the elections. So far there has not been much that the parties are doing in preparing for the elections. Parties seem to be more than relaxed as if there are no elections around the corner. Reports have disclosed that the Electoral Body will hold the much-awaited Local Government Elections on 23rd November this year. This is against a background of the absence of ward councilors for more than 10 years in Malawi. This set up has not been welcomed from some quarters that feel the timing is bad considering it is rainy season.
Although government is still clinging to its plans to have the Malawi National flag modified, some observers are still against it. While other people are still of the view that there is going to be loss of government money in modifying the flag, the Ministry of Information has assured the nation that there will be no costs for people to worry about. Surprisingly government announced it had finished getting views from religious leaders, traditional leaders, and other stakeholders who have shown support for the flag change. Contrary views can still be sourced in the media because some observers think that government wants to use its numbers in Parliament to pass the flag change bill. As some analysts have said the government will be judged not only for its good policies but also some blunders it makes.
The Malawi Law Commission in the month under review asked all stakeholders to be vigilant in making sure that the rule of law is respected. Law experts have observed that there are a number of issues that government should have performed better in observing the rule of law. Such cases include the way government handled the leader of opposition issue and the quota system of selecting students to public institutions of higher learning. The Malawi Law Commission wants to see some changes in the way government handles issues like the changing of a flag, which they feel, did not involve the masses.
A number of civil society organizations have commended the National Assembly for passing the Child Protection Bill. All stakeholders that deal with children's affairs are relieved because of the availability of this law. Against this background organizations have asked President Bingu wa Mutharika to assent the bill swiftly. Children have been victims of so many abuses, which include trafficking, sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Perhaps the presence of the law will ease the problems that children face in the society.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE
The woman from Mulanje who made headlines for giving birth to a stone is now back in the papers. This time around reports say she is expecting again. According to medical evidence the woman, Agnes Misolo, is indeed pregnant and is expected to give birth later this year. This is the woman who left people with so many questions as to why she ended up delivering a stone. Misolo who miscarried in her previous pregnancies attracted the attention of some senior medical experts who concluded that she inserted the stone, which she later gave birth to. To date some people are at pains to understand the whole issue.
Malawi joined the rest of Africa in commemorating the Day of an African Child on 16th June. President Bingu wa Mutharika who is also the chairperson of the African Union attended the function that was held in Lilongwe. Mutharika once again asked donors to pump in a lot of funds for children's education in Malawi. Mutharika was referring to reports that some donors were giving a lot of money to advocate for minority rights. It has only been some weeks since Mutharika pardoned a gay couple that was sentenced for 14 years. Reports have shown that a number of foreign donors were more than ready to give out a lot of money for the freedom of the gay couple. Against this background Mutharika feels the same attention that the donors gave to these minority rights issues should be given to children's issues.
Minister of Labour Yunus Mussa in June asked the private sector to emulate government's example in raising the salaries. In the 2010/2011 Budget the Minister of Finance increased the salaries of the civil service by 15%. Mussa on several occasions has spoken on the poor conditions of workers in Chinese and Indian firms. It goes without saying that the cost of living is always going up and the cost of some goods and services is following the same upward trend. Therefore it would only make sense if employers heed to the minister's plea to follow government's example.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Professor Peter Mutharika in June made it known that in the whole world Malawi's constitution is one of the most amended. For whatever reasons, ever since the multiparty democracy came in, each party that is in power makes proposals to have some sections of the constitution amended to suit their plans and wishes. This happens mostly because the parties in power also have the majority and this makes it easy for anything to be passed in the August House. Even without wider consultation on some issues many people would have loved to still remain with some of the old laws of Malawi not been scrapped. One example is the recall provision. The minister's observation is indeed true and perhaps gives people a clear picture of how governments can abuse the constitutions to fit their intentions.
The fact that government has planned to give out hardship allowances to teachers living in the rural areas has not gone down well in their counterparts in towns and cities. In his Budget presentation Finance Minister Ken Kandodo announced that government would be giving out K5,000 every month to every teacher in the rural areas. This development has not pleased the teachers in towns and cities because they feel they equally deserve the hardship allowance. The teachers in town think they have been left out, because they also have problems teaching in urban areas. This is because in towns the enrollment of students is high. The high numbers of enrollment mean a lot of work for the teachers in towns but less. Against this background the teachers vowed to fight for what they feel belongs to them too but government is putting its foot down.
A Form 2 dropout startled the Malawi nation when he joined the law programme at the University of Malawi Chancellor College. It is hard to believe that one can attend college and have access to all facilities including daily lectures, without proper channel of accessing a place at such an institution. Could this be the only case? This only shows that the system is porous somewhere and needs further scrutiny to avoid more embarrassment to both the college and the education system. Law is generally taken as a difficult career and to have a Form 2 dropout attending lectures without being noticed for some time is surprising.
College students are never short of controversies. In the past it has always been the Polytechnic and Chancellor College which were either rioting because of the delays in getting allowances or other problems. This time around Mzuzu University students rioted over the absence of printers and photocopiers. Not only did the students damage some of properties around the school but also on the M1 road during the riot. The college received a donation of a heavy-duty printer just days after the fracas. Professor Peter Mutharika donated a heavy-duty printer to the students when he was giving a public lecture at the college.
Efforts to achieve goals on education might not bear any fruits because of the latest stand taken by government. It seems the proposals to have compulsory education have fallen on deaf ears. In its recent announcement government, through the Minister of Finance Ken Kandodo, said government would not introduce compulsory education. This scenario has not pleased some people who feel government should do a lot more in making sure that more are attending school. Such observers feel having compulsory education is the only way Malawi can achieve the universal access to education.
Government re-launched the measles campaign in June. The campaign targeted children that did not get a chance to be vaccinated in the previous campaign. This time there was a lot of awareness and funding which meant a lot of children attended. According to reports the campaign was re-launched after reports have shown that there were a many flops during the first exercise. It is reported that measles has killed over 80 people since the first case of the outbreak was announced a few months ago.
Meanwhile people from some faith communities are still not allowing their faithful to take their children to receive the anti-measles vaccine. A number of cases have now been reported in the press about families that have lost their children to measles. A recent case was in Lilongwe where a father refused to take his children to hospital after they had been attacked by measles. The family has since lost two children to the disease. It is the same case with a certain group of people who are now hiding in Mulanje after running away from the measles campaign. The group is reported to have left Kasungu and Zomba because they are not prepared to have their children vaccinated because it is against their beliefs. The authorities in the district have since vowed to vaccinate the children at gunpoint.
Some people have argued that it is one's right to do as they please with their children. But others feel while it is true, the same rights are putting other people's lives in danger of contracting the disease once it attacks children that have not been taken for vaccination.
As if reports of shortage of HIV/AIDS testing kits in some hospitals are not enough the press in June revealed more shocking news on the fight against the pandemic. Health reports in June also disclosed that the price of ARVs might go up. There is going to be another type of ARVs that have no side effects. According to reports the price of the drugs will triple. Already there are worries that the number of people who access ARVs is very small compared to those that require it. Perhaps the development of new ARVs should give authorities an idea of what they will do to make it up for people who cannot afford the expensive ones.
The fight against malaria, which is one of the major killers in the world, took another turn in Malawi when the Ministry of Health launched a campaign against the disease. A revelation indicated that malaria attacks on Under 5 children are much higher in a year than on adults. Reports have shown that in hospitals malaria patients occupy 28% of the beds and these figures are on a higher side. It is against this background that the health ministry launched the United Against Malaria / Malungo Zii campaign. It is through this campaign that authorities want a concerted effort from all stakeholders in the fight against the disease.
Press reports on the environment have disclosed that the dwindling numbers of fish in the country's waters could also be attributed to the noise. Environmental experts have noted that in the past the Lake had a lot fish. This resulted in many households accessing the delicate Chambo fish. The current decreasing number of the Chambo has also been attributed to bad fishing practices. Not every fisherman obeys the authorities to avoid fishing in certain months when the fish are breeding. Evidence has shown that even the very small fish are on people's tables. This could only mean that more and more people are fishing irresponsibly. Therefore noise pollution and careless fishing should be avoided at all costs so that the fish in the lake continue to breed more.
World Environmental Day was commemorated the in June. Under the theme "Man Species One Planet One Future", environmentalists across the nation met in Rwanda to share notes on the subject. Environmentalists have since asked organizers to consider Malawi as the next host. Malawi has made strides in conserving the environment and as such it is capable of hosting the event. While some experts feel Malawi has not done much in fulfilling the Malawi Development Goal on Environment, others think there is something to show the world. This is why they are asking organizers to think of letting Malawi host the global meeting next year. Among campaigns the presidential initiative on tree planting and on fishing have made tremendous changes in the environmental sector.
Press reports on environment continue to show how people are benefiting from natural resources. Media reports have shown that more women are now being empowered by village forests and products. Since its inception women who are involved in village forests in Thyolo are now reducing the distances they cover to look for firewood. This means the women have more time to attend to other issues in their homes. The village forests are also acting as one way of fighting climate change. If more and more villages have forests it would perhaps have an impact on national climate change.
Some projects are failing to bear fruits because of some bad tendencies among people who live closer to riverbanks. It is reported that many riverbanks are bare thanks to people who cut down trees unnecessarily. The Ministry of Water Development and Irrigation gave out evidence that irrigation projects are failing to operate successfully because of the situation, which comes about because of deforestation. In fact the ministry intends to declare all land that is 20 kilometers from rivers as protected areas. Possibly if this comes into place it would help in ensuring that the county is indeed food secured as many irrigation programmes would work out to farmers' expectation.
Reports of police officers involved in gender-based violence cannot go without comment. It is so surprising to know that the same people that communities believe in and rely on are the ones that are involved in wife battering. In many cases people depend on the police when there are cases of physical, financial, and emotional abuses in families. But the Mzimba case is one sad story of how the so-called role models are abusing their spouses. It goes without saying that even people who are aware of the Domestic Violence Law are also the ones who commit crimes.
In Malawi a number of people who advocate for gender are normally frowned at. By now one would have expected this attitude to have changed but it is refusing to die. This is because traditionally men feel they will never be at the same level with women. In many societies in Malawi whenever a man does some chores that are female dominated, people question his integrity. Press reports have shown that some women have been subjected to insults for making their husbands contribute to household work. Other observers actually think a woman whose husband helps in the home is powered by the use of magi juju. Isn't it time people changed their mindset so that men and women work together.
Press reports in the month of June have shown that girls in Zomba District are now aiming high in their studies because of two role models they have in the district. It is Zomba District where the First Lady Callista Chimombo comes from. Again it is the same district, which is the home of the Vice President of Malawi Right honorable Joyce Banda. This scenario has inspired many girls in the district. Media reports have disclosed that some girls are now working hard in class because they want to become top officials in Malawi.
With just some months to the Local Government Elections, the umbrella body of gender networks in Malawi announced that it has no funds for female candidates. This news is shocking considering the fact that aspiring women surely great financial backing in order to make it during the elections. It is again surprising because not so long ago the same women had a lot of funding during the General Elections. Campaign period in Malawi means a lot of resources being splashed out therefore the female aspiring counselors need a great deal of financial support. It is against this background that gender experts want to ask donors to pump in money for this cause.
Fr. Bill Turnbull
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632