MALAWI PRESS REVIEW May 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,
Something is wrong somewhere and indeed it needs a hasty solution before something goes terribly wrong. The fact that people are misusing the drug that prolongs lives of AIDS patients is true and some culprits were arrested. But the fact still remains that this is just the tip of the iceberg, because some cases have not been reported yet. No one knows what happens to the system so that these rare drugs should be found even on markets in townships?
More than 10 years ago the Anti Retroviral ARVs were only available to AIDS patients who could afford the drugs because they were for sale and were very expensive. Those that had money could access the drugs but the less privileged were left with no option.
The situation is not the same today because ARVs are given out for free. This only means that Government tries its best to make sure that these drugs are always available for people. Evidence has shown that coupled with good nutrition, the free drugs have had a major transformation on some people living positively.
ARVs are not just like any ordinary drugs, because one has to get a prescription from an expert after they have certified that the patient has reached a stage that their immune system needs re-boosting. Now reports that the drug is being sold on the open market are disturbing and could be life threatening.
We applaud the whistle blowers Malawi Health Equity Network MHEN and others for alerting the police. How about the suppliers of the drugs to the vendors that were arrested? For sure these would be in a position to spill more beans.
A lot of reports centered on the misuse of the life prolonging drugs include using it as a chicken feed and for brewing Kachasu (a local spirit). Some more civic education and awareness would perhaps help to heal this wound.
At last Honorable John Tembo can afford a smile following a judgment by the High Court in the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly case. Tembo has been bitter for months after a youthful and newcomer in political circles, Abele Kayembe, scooped the hot seat of Leader of Opposition in Parliament right under the Malawi Congress Party MCP leader's nose. Kayembe rose to fame after a breakaway group of the MCP, called their Taskforce for Change, nominated the Dowa East legislator as their leader. In a contest that saw both the Government and Opposition side voting, Kayembe won with a landslide victory outshining the aging MCP leader John Tembo. But now Tembo who has suffered the humiliation in recent times is now having the last and loudest laugh. The high court nullified the position of Leader of Opposition, and this means Tembo is back as Opposition leader in the house
Following the High Court ruling some political analysts have commended the judiciary. According the analysts the high court ruling means there is democracy in Malawi. The fact that Tembo is able to contest the issue in court and winning the case means democratically as a nation we are growing up because the judiciary are able to do things independently.
Some quarters are still not happy with the Electoral Commission's announcement that the Local Government Elections will be held in November. There are fears by the opposition parties that it usually rains in November and as so many people are busy with farming activities. Besides not too many people would be keen to go and vote on a rainy day. Just recently the European Union EU announced it would not fund the Local Government Elections. The EU had earlier last year promised to fund the election but Government did not show any commitment to holding them last year. Now that the Electoral Commission has announced the dates, the EU has changed its tune. It should be noted that EU fund the National Initiative for Civic Education NICE in the civic education programmes. There is still a shortfall in the Electoral Commission budget for Local Government Elections planned for November this year. Where the balance will come from is not known.
The United Democratic Front UDF finally announced it would hold a convention in September. The party's announcement has excited a number of groups and individuals who feel the party is at last doing the right thing. The party is now moving away from the tendency of making unilateral decisions. Among other things the party is going to choose a chairman and a new National Executive Committee NEC. According to officials at the UDF, the party will not choose a presidential candidate for the party at this meeting but will call for another convention in future.
Still in the UDF a certain taskforce within the party shocked political observers when it announced that they still want former president Dr Bakili Muluzi as the party's chairperson. Muluzi who is currently ill, late last year resigned from politics and has since rejected the taskforce's proposal. The former president has vowed to make sure that leadership in the party is given to new blood, an opinion shared by many.
President Professor Bingu wa Mutharika's speech at the opening of the 2010/2011 Budget sitting of Parliament has been applauded as one of the best since he came to power. The professor, who is also leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party DPP, asked the nation to burry the past which was characterized with hate and vengeance among Members of Parliament in the National Assembly. According to Mutharika a united Malawi can make wonders and reach greater heights. The opposition United Democratic Front UDF and some members of the civil society have also commended the president for coming up with such a brilliant speech.
True to Professor Mutharika's words that as Malawians we should we should build this nation with one heart, the DPP forgave its three suspended Members of Parliament from the Northern Region. The three suspended legislators got the boot after they took Government to task for introducing the quota system of selecting students to public universities. This could be a sign that the DPP is practicing what it is preaching to others.
One independent Member of Parliament for Mangochi called Yusuf Matumula startled the nation when he proposed that the incumbent president should be allowed to extend his term of office. Matumula in his speech at the August House in Lilongwe, attracted a lot of questions from observers on what exactly was the reason behind such a proposal. Matumula cited some developmental projects in many sectors that Mutharika laid out in his State of the Nation address as some of the reasons he would want the president to extend his term of office. The MP wants Mutharika to finish his projects because the remaining years during his term of office will not be enough. Observers noted that Matumula should know better that it is the same National Assembly that voted against the former president's bid to extend his legally allocated two five-year terms to a third one. This caused political instability in Malawi and for sure people would not a repeat of this.
Although Malawi's track record on economic performance has been good in recent times experts have noted that it went down again in 2009. It is true that ever since President Bingu wa Mutharika came to power the country's economic record has been one of the best. This is evident by the return of a number of donors who had earlier on deserted Malawi because of mismanagement of donor money. Again Malawi also had its debt cancelled because it was seen to be managing its finances prudently. Recently the African Development Bank ADB expressed concern over the country's over borrowing. Although Malawi's debt was cancelled a few years ago, the country is now in a lot of debt after taking further loans recently.
Some of the proposals aired during the pre-budget consultation this year seem to have found their way into the Government's presented plans for the 2010/2011 Budget. A number of organizations and stakeholders spoke and asked Government about various issues on tax. Some stakeholders felt it is high time Government raised the basic tax level in the country. According to observers a number of people who are taxed feel the burden because the tax base is too low considering the population of the country. This seems to have been incorporated in the just presented National Plan.
Finance minister Ken Kandodo presented a K297 billion 2010/2011 National Budget in the National Assembly. Kandodo among other things allocated some money to the much cried for scholarships for nurses. The scholarships were suspended last year. Teachers in rural areas will also continue to smile because the 2010 Budget allocated an additional K5,000 to those that are in the rural areas. It should be noted that the Finance Minister also announced the dissolution of some parastatal organizations as a cost cutting exercise. Just like any other Budget observers have already commended Kandodo for the Budget, which they say, is good.
Much to the dismay of the people who proposed an increase in the non-taxable amount on Pay As You Earn PAYE, the 2010/2011 Budget did not meet the people's expectations. A number of organizations had proposed to raise it from K10,000 to at least K24,000. The reason behind this was the fact that the cost of living on food items is hovering around K24,000. But the finance minister did not do this. It means the burden on those lower earners who pay tax still exists. Rumours had earlier circulated that Government would increase the non-taxable band but when the Budget was presented nothing of that sort happened.
Government did not act on the plea by the civil society, to raise the price of subsdised fertilizer from K500 a bag to K1,000. In his presentation of the Budget Ken Kandodo announced that out of the K32 billion that has been allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture more than half of this has gone to the fertilizer subsidy programme. But Government still maintained the price of K500 per 50kg bag to the surprise of the civil society organization because this is the same price that's farmers were buying the farm input last year. Civil society organizations felt by doubling the price of subsdised fertilizer Government would be able to reach out to many people but as it is Government has other views.
In the same line some commentators have suggested that Malawi should be thinking of ways of exiting the subsidy programme. Evidence has shown that Malawi's success story on food security is mainly because of good rains and the introduction of fertilizer and farm input subsidy. But the more beneficiaries of the subsidy fertilizer are increasing, the more the budget for the subsidy programme increases. The Malawi Economic Justice Network MEJN observes that the continued purchasing of subsidy fertilizer could safely be said to be one of the reasons there is a shortage of Forex. Therefore, Malawi needs to do away with the importation of lots of subsidized fertilizers so that the much-needed Forex should remain in the country. At the same time farmers should now be thinking of using organic manures.
Latest reports on food security have revealed that there is some maize coming in from Mozambique. People in the district border of Mulanje have been buying maize from neighboring Mozambique. But the sad thing is the traders in Mozambique are using the Malawi currency and selling the grain at very low prices.
Perhaps the problem of maize wastage during storage time will now be history because of the coming in of some more pesticides. In May Mzuzu University validated the use of Neem as a pesticide. Neem is a natural tree found in some parts of Malawi. For a long time many farmers have lost their harvest because of shortage of pesticides. Now the validation of neem would at least lessen the amount maize that is wasted during storage time. It would also save people's hard earned cash if the use of neem is encouraged among farmers because it is locally found.
CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS
Some non-governmental organizations in the month of May asked Government to ban the sale of cheap alcohol sachets that have infested Malawi. Getting out of one's house one can be either greeted by people selling these cheap sachets or empty sachets littering the surroundings in townships and streets. Not only has the selling of these sachets triggered the anger environmentalists but also ordinary citizens. Reports have shown that the cheap alcohol, which is being sold at only K10.00, is easily accessible to people because at any corner the sellers are seen with their merchandise. Surprisingly these vendors sell the liquor even to under aged students. Observers have noted that because there are no clear rules on the selling of liquor, it is easy for the young generation to turn into alcoholics because the spirit is cheap and at their disposal. It should be noted that in some countries beer is not sold to anyone under the age of 18, once a bar owner is caught doing so his license is revoked.
An announcement that Local Government Elections will be held in November has caused some panic among the civil society. Civil society organizations feel the component of civic education during the election period is an ongoing process and therefore any delays in coming up with the electoral calendar of events affects the watchdogs. Experience has shown that without civic education there are a lot of null and void votes and voter apathy.
A number of local non-governmental organizations in May expressed disappointment over the sentencing of gay couple Tionge Chimbalanga and Stevie Monjeza. The first ever-gay couple to come out publicly about their sexuality has been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour. The sentencing of the two has raised a lot of debates both on the local and international scene. Locally some observers, including the clergy, have commended the courts for sentence. On the other hand some people feel the 14-year jail term is too harsh. Internationally a number of countries, organizations and individuals have shown great disappointment with Malawi because the ruling has violated the human rights of the gay couple. Even some of Malawi's cooperating partners have expressed their concerns over Malawi's record on human rights. Now Chimbalanga and Monjeza have been pardoned by president Bingu wa Mutharika and they are now free.
A survey by the Center For Social Concern CFSC has disclosed that a number of unskilled workers are receiving poor salaries. According to CFSC, people working for Indians and in Chinese shops get poor salaries after working for six days a week. Some even work on Sundays and their salaries do not match the amount of work they do. The question still remains a big question as to how these people make ends meet with minimal resources.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE
Surprises will never end. Indeed we are living in a world of weird things and each day does not pass without hearing stories of strange things happening in Malawi. Press reports in May disclosed the tale of people who have entered a profession of mourning at funerals. It is reported that there is a group of people who are offering their services at a fee to the bereaved families in some parts of Malawi. This is a new phenomenon to many Malawians and it has raised so many questions as to what exactly these people want to achieve.
The announcement that Government intends to ban polygamy has been received with different views and opinions among Malawians. For the first time in Malawi those that have an intention of going into a polygamous relationship will soon have to face the authorities. This will be the case because Government plans to ban polygamy in Malawi. Already some analysts have chosen to differ with Government's stand on the issue. Some religions allow their faithful to marry more than one wife. Government feels outlawing polygamy will help safeguard the rights of women and children.
Malawi joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Labour Day on 1st May. Workers from different parts of Malawi and trade unions joined the Ministry of Labour in commemorating the day with activities including a peaceful demonstration that was held in Blantyre. Evidence has shown that many workers in Malawi suffer in silence because they have nowhere to air out their concerns. It is also reported that other workers fail to join trade unions for fear of losing their jobs. Among other things workers that attended the march still want Government to pass the Labour Tenancy Bill and to deal with other equally important issues. It is only after the Bill is made into a law that tenants and other workers can live a dignified life.
Press reports in the month under review have disclosed that the Malawi Law Commission has pegged the marriage age at 18. The commission further said at 18 people can marry without their parents' consent. The issue of the marriage age caused a lot of controversy when Members of Parliament passed a Bill that legalised marriage at the 16 last year. Health experts cried over Parliament's decision on the marriage age because they felt at this time most girls are not mature enough to endure child bearing. It was not surprising to see that president Bingu wa Mutharika did not give his consent to the Bill.
The news that Government is going to build five more universities across the nation has been received with mixed reactions. While some people feel this is a good step towards making public university accessible to many Malawians others feel it is not a solution to the problems the education sector is facing. Mutharika in his State of the Nation address announced that he has planned to build five more universities. Perhaps with more colleges and resources the standards of education can improve for the better. This is a long-term solution to the shortage of space in public universities.
The issue of shortage of teachers in Malawi is now going to be a thing of the past. Thanks to the newly launched Open and Distance Learning ODL programme for teachers training. Press reports have disclosed that this system will see more than 4,000 teachers being trained every year. Although some observers are skeptical over this newly introduced programme because they fear it will compromise quality. But the education ministry feels this is one of the ways to trim down the teacher pupil ratio.
Still on the same issue of improving the standards of education in his presentation of the 2010/2011 National Budget, the Finance Minister aired out some measure to this cause. Kandodo, apart from raising the salaries of civil servants by 15%, also added K5,000 to every teacher who works in the rural areas. There is a tendency of refusing to work in the rural areas among teachers. Perhaps these initiatives will ecourage teachers to reconsider teaching in rural areas so that the enrollment of pupils is improved in these areas. The trend has been low number of pupils because of shortage of teachers.
The opposition Malawi Congress Party MCP in its comment about the just tabled National Budget asked the Government to consider making education compulsory in Malawi. It is not a secrete that Malawi is one of the countries where illiteracy levels are very high, therefore making education compulsory would in the long run change things for the better.
Students will now be feeling the pinch because of the Government's decision to change the school calendar. According to normal circumstances secondary schools are expected to finalise everything in nine months, but because this is a transition year even those that are in examinations classes now are spending only seven months. This scenario has raised fears that there might be a lot of cheating in this year's examinations because students will not have covered all the required materials in the syllabus. This scenario might also increase the number of failures during the two national examinations.
People of all walks of life have welcomed the news of the reintroduction of scholarships for aspiring nurses in training schools with a big smile. In the 2010/2011 Budget Finance Minister Ken Kandodo has set aside over K3 billion for aspiring nurses training. This is good news to the nursing fraternity because already there were people who had prayed for the coming back of the scholarships. Late last year the Government announced the suspension of the scholarship. To date there are a handful students in both CHAM and government training institutions. The announcement by Ken Kandodo is a relief to those students that failed to make it this academic year because of high school fees.
The news of the reintroduction of the scholarship came at a time the medical fraternity was in need of more nurses. As the nurses and midwives were commemorating International Day of Nurses it came out clearly that Malawi still needs 24,000 midwives. According to the National Organization of Nurses and Midwives NONM announced that already there is a shortage of midwives and it becomes very difficult to attend to expectant women during delivery time. Therefore the fact that there is money for the scholarships means more nurses will be trained thereby increasing the number in hospitals.
When news broke that there are some people who are selling anti-retroviral drugs ARVs on an open markets, some government authorities lashed out at both the media and other interested non-governmental organization. But the irony of it is that some people were indeed caught selling the drugs and are now answering theft charges. It is a sad situation because already there are a lot of people who are dying for the drugs. Reports in some months have shown that there is a shortage of the drugs because of the large number of people that needs ARVs but fail to access them. Credit should be given to the health monitoring organizations and the media for exposing the malpractice that has led to the arrests.
Press reports in the month under review have disclosed the campaign voluntary testing and counseling of HIV and AIDS is being carried out but with some hitches. Although there is now a lot of awareness on the need to go for voluntary testing and counseling, some centers still have problems. There is not much that some VCT centers can do because there is a shortage of testing kits. This has led to failures to have one's blood tested. The media has disclosed that in Nkhotakota District testing has been suspended because of the shortage.
In the 2010/2011 National Budget Minister of Finance Ken Kandodo took some tough measures on the people who are in the business of timber. Kandodo adjusted upwards the price of timber at forests like Chikangawa from K1,500 to K10,000 per cubic meter of firewood. In this bid Government wants to give more power to the Forestry Management Fund that would assist in the elimination of depletion of Malawi's forestry resources. Evidence has shown that Malawi's forest products are the cheapest comparing to some countries in Southern Africa. Even at K10,000 per cubic meter of firewood the price is still on the low side. Some environmentalists have welcomed the measures, which will in a way help to fulfill Government's efforts in safeguarding the forests at the same time managing deforestation.
Malawi received a pat in the back for the progress it has made in stopping the use of ozone-depleting substances. Some years ago the Government of Malawi banned the use of certain chemicals in the tobacco industry because they were known to be assisting in depleting the ozone layer. In recent months warnings were all over of the importation of second hand fridges and air conditioners. Environmentalists warned over the importation of second hand fridges that had some ozone depleting substances in them. It seems people took heed of the warning and visibly there are only a few of no such fridges on the markets today. Against this background the United Nations Environment Program UNEP commended Malawi for the efforts.
Environmentalists are leaving no stone unturned in sensitizing the masses about climate change. It might sound like a new word but a number of stakeholders are now aware of the term. Just recently some religious groups reported to have added their weight in the fight against climate change. Similarly a number of organizations and countries are also into climate change. The Japanese have in the month of May given out K3bn to Malawi to assist in easing the climate change. This shows that a lot of stakeholders are committed in lessening effects of climate change.
Pollution in rivers seems to be the order of the day and nobody really cares about what will happen in the near future. In cities waste dumping is usually done in the rivers. This tendency has resulted in many rivers being blocked. As if this is not enough the contents of broken sewer pipes in many townships end up in rivers. The future of these rivers continues to be in balance if residents continue to dump waste in rivers.
The month of May had its own share of stories on abuses that women face in the society. A notable story is that of a woman who was physically attacked by her husband. Despite the man being in a polygamous relationship the irated husband broke the second wife's hand. Just like many women who are in abusive relationships, the woman tried to shield the husband. Evidence has shown that too many women are suffering in silence despite a lot of awareness on the existence of Victim Support Units VSU in many Police stations. In Malawi there is a law on Domestic Violence that was passed in the National Assembly.
With some months to go before Malawi conducts the Local Government Elections, stakeholders will be engaged in a 50-50 campaign. Gender activists want the number of female representation in the Local Government Elections to increase. Therefore, there is need to have a good preparation if this dream is to materialise. For this reason some donors have pledged to help women who are aspiring to become councilors with funding. Experience has shown that most of the times women fail to make it in elections in Malawi mainly because they do not have the financial muscle. It becomes very difficult for women in any elections to defeat men because of monetary issues.
Although Malawi failed to reach the 50-50 representation of women in the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections last year, different stakeholders are of the view that with a lot of help this can be achieved in the Local Government Elections later this year. One of the organizations that will give untiring support to aspiring women is privately owned radio Zodiak Broadcasting Station ZBS. The station is prepared to feature more women in their programmes on the Local Government Elections than men. For sure not too many men will be amused with this arrangement. But it is good that at least with radio programmes on women people will make informed choices in choosing counselors.
President Bingu wa Mutharika in his State of the Nation address assured the Malawi nation that he would make sure the fight for gender equality is advanced. Mutharika in 2009 signed the SADC Gender and Development Protocol, an assurance that he is indeed committed to the advancement of women in Malawi. What remains is to see his speech on women empowerment translating into action. It is meaningless to put a woman in a decision making position, when after all they are treated as a white elephants. For this battle to be won, Malawi needs more and more women that are making decisions and are actively participating in formulation of policies in any sector.
Fr. Bill Turnbull
Center for Social Concern (CFSC)
Box 40049 Lilongwe 4
Next to St. Francis Parish
Tel: 01 715 632