MY RESPONSE TO STATE OF NATION ADDRESS (SONA)
,MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2020
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members of the House, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I stand here to formally respond to the State of the Nation Address whose theme was RESTORING WARMTH TO THE HEART OF AFRICA, delivered on Friday, September 4, 2020 by His Excellency, President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera.
Most profoundly, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to the immediate past President, the President of my party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika for trusting me with the honour and responsibility to lead the opposition in this August House.
For that, I am deeply indebted and will always be inspired by his visionary leadership. His leadership undoubtedly set the tone for the country’s social and political transformation and it significantly set the pace of our development.
I wish to remind this august House that my predecessors, in the Office of the Leader of Opposition, used this podium to attack and insult His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika.
Today, l wish to assure this august House and all Malawians that I shall never stand here to attack personalities. The reason is simple and straightforward. I AM NOT USED TO DOING THAT.
For this reason, I wish to thank the President for recently touring the Area 18 interchange project, which is a brainchild of former President His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika.
Let me also take this opportunity to commend some Cabinet Ministers who in the past weeks took their time of inspecting some projects initiated by the previous DPP Government.
That was an indication that the new leader and his Administration recognizes the huge contribution that the former President and DPP government made towards the country’s social and economic development.
From the onset, let me acknowledge the fact that as a nation, we are faced with a serious COVID-19 challenge.
I wish to commend the health workers who are fighting against the COVID 19 pandemic for their hard work and dedication in saving lives and helping the country to “flatten the curve”.
I wish to appeal to government to continue providing the health workers with the necessary preventive tools and improve their working conditions.
Madam Speaker and Honourable Members,
Allow me to honour the health personnel who have died while on duty due to COVID-19. Their death has not been in vain. May they rest well.
I also wish to recognize the commendable role that our Army and Police officers have been playing in providing security to our country and serving in peace-keeping missions abroad. I stand here to honour their sacrifices and patriotism.
May I request you Madam Speaker, and all members to stand for a minute’s silence as a gesture of respect for our health workers and security officers who have died in the line of duty.
In this regard, I wish to stand with all teachers in Malawi in regard to the issue of risk allowances as schools open today amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Prison warders and health personnel who are at risk of contracting Coronavirus are being given COVID-19 risk allowances.
Why should our teachers be denied the same? I had expected the President to adequately address this matter in his SONA but he deliberately chose not to address the plight of teachers, which is extremely unfortunate.
Madam Speaker and Honourable Members,
The SONA is a constitutional provision and an important annual tradition, which brings together all important personalities from the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary under one roof.
It is an occasion that allows the Head of State to inform Malawians about the current state of the nation as well as give recommendations to the Legislature regarding government priorities and proposed measures for the fiscal year.
To my understanding, a good SONA must at least address a number of important elements. These include the state of our democracy; the state of our economy and the service delivery.
All these above elements were included in the SONA, but as they say, the devil is always in the detail.
As the first SONA for a first-time Head of State, the expectations of Malawians were very high.
Malawians expected a comprehensive articulation of a roadmap of how this government would implement its vision and a development blueprint that we have heard so much about over the past couple of months.
Instead, what Malawians got was merely a blank page where substance was relegated to the backseat.
The President surely did not do any justice to Malawians by pledging to construct official houses for Members of Parliament (MPs) especially considering that MPs are wealthier than many civil servants. Most of civil servants including teachers, nurses, police and army officers, social welfare officers and agriculture extension workers, among others live in dilapidated houses. This is an insult to poor Malawians.
Indeed, a constituency office equipped with the necessary operational tools would have been appropriate.
Madam Speaker and Honourable Members,
The zeal, dedication and tenacity with which President Lazarus Chakwera and his team displayed in campaigning for the presidency were impressive. However, they say he who drags a goat to the market also finds himself at the market.
It is a naked fact that the June 23 polls left this country with a bitter after-taste and divided the nation along tribal and regional lines.
As opposition, we wish to commend the government for highlighting an agenda of unity through the newly-created Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity.
It is also important that such policy projection is matched by actions on the ground to indicate seriousness. Malawians are expecting to see how this peace and unity initiative will heal the wounds of victims of MCP 30-year atrocities.
Malawians will be expecting to see how victims of political demonstrations in 2019 will be taken care of, especially in form of compensation for those that lost property and lives of dear ones.
I have in mind the death of Superintendent Usiman Imedi who was killed in the line of duty at Nsundwe in Lilongwe.
Although others may argue that you cannot judge a government that has just been in office for three months, I am saying it is possible to know the character of a government from its actions on its first day in office.
Over the last three months that this government has been in place, we have seen policy ambiguities and lack of decision-making. We have seen doublespeak; within the last three months, we have seen arbitrary and politically motivated arrests.
Within the last three months, regionalism and cronyism have reared their ugly head where husbands, sisters, wives and brothers have been appointed into cabinet.
We have also seen summary dismissals of perceived DPP sympathisers from their posts. Within the last three months, we have seen a sort of political power-play that would most certainly end in a leadership disaster of unparalleled proportion for this government.
This transition period is a watershed moment for this country and we need an above-board leadership that must prioritize unity. The first thing that the President should have done was to take deliberate action to unite the country after an election that was bitterly fought on regional lines, not to allow his cheerleaders to foment divisions.
The President should borrow from the popular parlance of Father and Founder of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who said there is no Chewa; no Tumbuka; no Sena, no Yao; no Ngonde: no Nyakyusa; no Lhomwe; and no Mang’anja and that we are all Malawians. Former President Dr. Bakili Muluzi also pursued a Malawi-for-all policy, which saw the appointment of late Right Honourable Dr. Chakufwa Thom Chihana (Simbi Ya Moto) of opposition AFORD as Second Vice President and Minister of Agriculture.
Indeed, Africa is full of examples where smaller and hitherto thought as insignificant disagreements escalated into full-blown sectarian conflicts with disastrous consequences, including loss of life and property worth billions.
Today, there are conflicts in countries like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali and Libya, among others, because people deliberately refused to respect each other’s perspective, choosing arrogance instead.
This is why I wish to encourage His Excellency President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera to exercise caution in his quest to “clear the rubble”; he must search for Nelson Mandela in him and reach out to his perceived enemies for the sake of unity and development. This is not a call for the government to stop seeking justice by not arresting those who clearly did wrong. No.
The wheels of justice must surely continue to turn but we have a problem when the arrests are politically motivated and made purely based on excitement, and targeted only at members of the DPP. Justice must not be discriminatory.
We can master any level of flowery language full of statistics and ambitious economic projections but if we fail on unity as leaders we have failed.
This is a free lesson this government must learn at this very early stage. If it strongly feels that the DPP failed to unite the country, the right thing to do is not to foment further divisions. Is there not a saying that two wrongs don’t make a right?
This is a new government; the Tonse Alliance government, and typical of new governments, there is always excitement like a young boy who is just learning how to whistle.
We urge the President not to fall in this trap because Malawians have high expectations. Among other things, Malawians cannot wait to start eating three meals a day; to start buying cheap fertilizer at 4,995 Kwacha per 50kg bag; (Universal Subsidy) and acquire 14,000 Kwacha and non-renewable passports.
Malawians are waiting for the continuation of cement and malata subsidy, construction of classrooms and teachers’ houses, elimination of power and water connection fees and financial support to the elderly, among others.
Indeed, Malawians businesses are waiting to enjoy a duty-free week; they are waiting for free electricity and water connection; our youths want to be among the one million people to be employed in the first 12 months of this government, and we have already done three months.
This is what got the Tonse Alliance government elected on June 23.
Already, we have noted that the SONA failed to boldly define a comprehensive road-map, let alone timelines of how these promises would be implemented.
Instead, the President chose to hide behind less definable Hi-5 agenda, such as prospering together and subtly throwing the responsibility of ending poverty in this country back to Malawians.
We are, therefore, left to wonder whether this is a Tonse Alliance government or just an MCP government. You can see, therefore, that there is no time for Mr. President to put two feet on the table, two hands at the back of his head and to just roll with the season because the honeymoon is already over.
THE STATE OF CITIZENS
Madam Speaker and Honourable Members,
The new government should be applauded for setting ambitious targets in Maternal and Child Health such as 350 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2022 and the SDG target of 70 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030; to eliminate HIV/AIDS as a public health hazard by 2030 as well as ensuring 100 percent availability of affordable family planning services and commodities.
However, the statement fell short of outlining an action plan or the building blocks of how these targets will be achieved. Madam Speaker, it is now an open secret that Covid-19 has substantially disrupted the health care space and exposed our inadequacies.
By merely saying “my administration is in the process of recruiting 1,600 Health Surveillance Assistants; constructing 900 Health Posts and accommodation for staff in hard-to-reach areas by 2022,” the SONA fell short in terms of outlining comprehensive measures, including funding profiles to equipping major referral hospitals with equipment and drugs to prevent such infectious diseases from devastating our health care system again in future.
The SONA also missed an opportunity to authoritatively outline how the education system would be revamped and improved in line with the Tonse Alliance manifesto. For example, the speech was empty on the strategy the government will implement to enroll the targeted 400,000 learners in adult literacy classes when official reports show that the country can only enroll 150,000 learners in the 10,000 literacy centers across the country.
The President promised to increase university enrolment by 12,000 from 36,000 in 2019/2020 to 48,000 in 2020/2021, without explaining how the intake will be doubled from the current 6,000 cognizant of the fact that annual intake has averaged 4900 since 2014/2015.
Just a reminder, our tertiary education students are still waiting for the scraping of tuition and boarding fees as well as start receiving book and upkeep allowances, as promised by the MCP during the campaign period.
With regard to the youth, the President must be commended for the plan to train 3,000 youths in vocational, livelihoods and technical skills and to train 300 youths in business; provide start-up tools and equipment to 600 youths; link 600 youths to financial lending institutions and equip 35,000 youths with leadership skills.
However, these figures are just a drop in the ocean considering the fact that Malawi has a high youth unemployment rate with 2.5 million out of primary and secondary school youths suffering from acute poverty due to the absence of essential skills.
As Government-in-waiting, we urge this government to use the policy of DPP government under Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika to have at least a Technical College in each district across the country to train our youths in various technical skills to ensure that they are plucked out of the poverty cycle and are given a livelihood
It pains me Madam Speaker to see that the whole Head of State can fail to mention how he is going to safeguard the rights of women in terms of financial empowerment in his 35-page document.
But in the way of helping the President and his MCP Government I would like to quickly share with this august House on Women Empowerment drive.
Since women comprise the majority of the population below the poverty line and are very often in situations of extreme abject poverty, given the harsh realities of social discrimination, I would wish the President to continue the existing poverty eradication intervention that will specifically address the needs of our beloved women in the rural areas.
I was expecting the President to give this House some statistics on how women will benefit from the programs such as Mutukula Pakhomo that President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika initiated which have tremendously enhanced the financial capacity
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members,
President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera could also have come out clearly with actionable plans on expatriates; land reforms; ICT and the creation of 1 million jobs within the first 12 months of Tonse Alliance government.
Our belief by now is that everything was thought through before our brothers in government came up with such promises, and even making them central cornerstones of their campaign strategy. It is troubling, therefore, to hear statements like “we are consulting” and “we are collecting data” from a man who is supposed to steer the creation of 1 million jobs when we are actually in the third month of the 12 months.
The data that Malawians needed is how many jobs this government has created over the past three months that it has been in office.
On expatriates, the President should have relied on conclusive data on how many expatriates or foreigners we have in this country and how many of those are actually taking jobs for Malawians.
Without denying that the problem of foreigners taking jobs that can be done by Malawians exists, it is risky to make sweeping statements that portray foreigners as the reason for the high unemployment rate in this country.
These statements have the effect of fermenting anger against foreigners among Malawians because they would think foreigners are taking their jobs, and that may result in xenophobia.
The percentage of foreigners in Malawi is very little and most of them are entrepreneurs, some work for their relatives and international NGOs.
AGRICULTURE AND IRRIGATION
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members,
Malawians would be happy to see that MCP Government would continue putting efforts on irrigation farming as the Former Government of DPP did a master piece on Irrigation and Technology.
Irrigation farmers can confer indirect benefits through increased agricultural production. Employment potential of irrigated lands, increase production and improve income of government from agriculture and irrigation. Availability of regular water supply will increase the income of farmers there by importing a sense security in agricultural sector. However, am very saddened to note that President Chakwera didn’t touch in details on this important topic.
However, am pleased to inform this august House that His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika has already opened two important Irrigation Schemes namely Bwanje Irrigation Scheme which has additional 1500 hectares of land whose dam will also produce electricity and Shire Valley Irrigation Project(SVIP) that will benefit current land owners and users, and include them in agricultural modernization; and
allow for private investments in partnership with land owners and users.
Malawi’s economy is driven predominantly by the agricultural sector, which accounts for one third of the GDP and 80 percent of jobs.
More than 80 percent of the country’s total exports are agricultural commodities, namely tobacco, sugar and tea. Tobacco represents an average 60 percent of Malawi ́s total exports.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, it is recognized that, without achieving agricultural growth, it would be impossible to deliver on the Government’s vision of creating wealth and employment for all the people of Malawi.
It is worrying that in his SONA, President Chakwera never highlighted policies and measures that his government would enact and implement to improve this extremely vital sector in our economy.
The President did not comprehensively highlight the importance of irrigation in the light of climate change challenges. In Malawi, rural communities are faced with abject poverty as a result of unpredictable rainfall patterns. We need to do better.
I also wish to request this government to be serious with legumes agriculture. The removal of legumes in the affordable Input programme (AIP) does not make sense at all. Legumes enhance personal nutrition. Legumes enhance soil fertility. Legumes are highly nutritious, packing plenty of protein and fibre. They are also cheap.
In fact, so many local businesses and commercial famers depend on production and marketing of legume seeds. Absence of legume seeds in the programme shall reduce employment in this sector
THE STATE OF ECONOMY
Madam Speaker and Honourable Members,
I am disappointed that foreign reserves are fast dwindling under this MCP government than it was under the DPP government.
FOREX is scarce; the Kwacha is depreciating and many Malawians are failing to buy goods and services due to a weaker Kwacha. The President, in his SONA, did not adequately address this matter, especially on what measures his administration would put in place to keep the economy ticking.
This scenario is compounded by the Covid-19, which has had a profoundly negative impact, not only on the Malawi economy but the whole global economy such that the world may fall into a recession. This is perhaps the reason why GDP growth projections have been revised down to 1.9 percent in 2020 from an initial estimated growth rate of 5.5 percent for the year compared to the 5.0 percent growth rate achieved in 2019.
Connected to this, let me reiterate my call to Government to seriously consider reducing cooperate tax the private sector pays to Government. Due to Covid 19 the private sector is failing to register profits and end up firing employees or put them on half pay. This development has led to accumulative figure of about 400,000 already dismissed from the time Malawi registered its first Covid 19 case in April this year.
Statistics further indicates that, if this left unchecked, the private sector, shall lay off about a million workers by December this year.
What is interesting is how this government will fund the huge wish-list that President Chakwera has produced in his SONA without borrowing domestically as well as internationally.
This is mindful of the fact that domestic borrowing is inflationary and could be a disincentive to investment, which the government needs to create jobs and spur social and economic development.
This is where fiscal discipline meets political rhetoric and it is not always a pleasant atmosphere.
Although I know it is difficult for this government to acknowledge, the DPP government successes under President Professor Peter Mutharika recorded some landmark progress in institutional, social, political and infrastructural developments that this new government can use as a springboard for economic success.
The DPP government managed to accomplish 869 projects in Agriculture, Water Development and Climate Change Management; 797 projects in Education and Skills Development;
119 projects in Energy, Industry and Tourism Development; 347 projects in Environmental Sustainability; 109 projects in Gender, Youth Development, Persons with Disability and Social Welfare; 327 projects in Health and Population Management; 162 projects in Human Settlement and Physical Planning; 51 projects in Peace and Security; 840 projects in Transport and ICT Infrastructure and many more.
Among some of these projects are Kasama Community Technical College, Kalenge Water Supply Project, Nthalire Rural Growth Centre and Rehabilitation of Chitipa-Karonga Road in Chitipa; Mzuzu-Nkhata-Bay Road, new Nkhata-Bay Hospital Nkhata-Bay Market in Nkhata-Bay, Mangochi Water Project, Mangochi Community Technical College, Mangochi Mlambe One Stop Centre, Liwonde-Mangochi Road, City Roads including Parliament-BNS Dual Carriageway Rehabilitation of Kamuzu International Airport; National Cancer Centre; New state of the art structures at Lilongwe University of Science and Natural Resources Lilongwe Business Park in Lilongwe; Chikwawa-Chapananga Road; Chapananga Rural Growth Centre; Chapananga Bridge; Chikwawa Teachers Training Centre; Chikwawa Green Belt Cotton Company in Chikwawa and may more across the country.
I am standing here a happy person because the development agenda of the DPP government under the wise and dynamic leadership of His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, has given MCP a starter-pack for development. When DPP claims that its seal is about democracy and development, we mean whatever we do is for the benefit of Malawians.
As you have seen, the Colleges for training primary school teachers in Mchinji, Rumphi, and Chikwawa were all completed under the DPP regime with support from JICA. This also includes the training of 200 Special Needs Teachers at Machinga TTC.
This is an impeccable record that cannot be erased from the annals of our history, and the reason why I want to give a big hand to former President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika.
At this juncture, let me register my absolute disappointment over President Chakwera’s directive to scrape off civil servant’s allowances. While allowances may be seen as a drain on public resources, they are an incentive and motivation for hard work.
I also wish to encourage this government to treat vendors with love. Government should amicably engage vendors on various matters affecting their business, including where they ought to trade their merchandize.
Similarly, it is heart-breaking to note that this government is harshly treating Kabaza operators. The government is confiscating their bicycles and motorcycles for alleged lack of operational documents when just three months ago, President Chakwera and his Tonse Alliance colleagues used the same Kabaza operators to spice up their campaign rallies.
Madam Speaker and Honourable Members,
I will be failing in my duty if I do not discuss the tourism industry, which has been worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a naked fact that hundreds of Malawians have lost jobs in this industry due to this pandemic. For example, about 150 employees at Sunbird Hotels have been laid off.
I wish to encourage this government to deliberately put in place strategies that would resuscitate the Tourism industry because the sector employs majority of women and youth who are vulnerable to so many issues such as sexual abuse as a result of wanting to survive and put food on the table. For example, government would implement tax holidays and waivers to the tourism sector operators and companies.
Madam Speaker and Honourable Members,
Madam Speaker, to sum it up, I wish to reiterate that what the President delivered in this august House was not a true reflection of state of the nation. A true state of the nation today is as follows:
Millions of Malawians are facing hunger. They can’t afford three meals a day.
A bag of fertilizer is still at K23, 000 and all maize, tobacco, tea, coffee farmers are waiting for day this government shall fulfil its promise of K4,995 Kwacha universal fertilizer subsidy.
Millions of our youths remain jobless despite being promised immediate 1 million jobs.
A passport is still at 80,000 Kwacha after we were promised a total reduction to K14,000 Kwacha.
Malawians are still paying for water and electricity connection.
Malawi has not yet reached a point of equal opportunities for everyone. It is a Malawi for a selected few. Even some Tonse alliance members have already started raising the red flag that Tonse alliance is slowly degenerating into a ‘Ndekha Alliance’.
I wish to conclude by cautioning President Chakwera and his government to tread carefully on wanton firing, redeployment and arrests of innocent and qualified public sector employees for the simple sin that they are sympathetic to the DPP.
This is uncalled for, retrogressive and anti-development.
For example, the following Principal Secretaries (PSs) have been redeployed for no apparent reason except that they are perceived to be DPP sympathizers:
1. Stuart Ligomeka from Statutory Corporations to OPC Special Duties;
2. Sungani Mandala from Accountant General to OPC Special Duties;
3. Ben Botolo from Foreign Affairs to OPC Special Duties
4. Hillalio Chimota from Department of Human Resource to OPC Special Duties;
5. Gertrude Hiwa from Solicitor General to OPC Special Duties; Grey Nyandule Phiri from Agriculture to OPC Special Duties;
6. Justin Saidi from Education to OPC Special Duties
7. Joseph Mwandidya – PS Lands
8. Kisswell Dakamau. PS Industry
9. Mr. Somanje National Registration Bureau (NRB)
10. Mr. Moleni. PS Disaster
11. Mr. Elvis Thodi, PS Energy
12. Dr. Dan Namarika, PS, Health
As this is not enough, DPP electoral commissioners Dr. Jean Mathanga and Linda Kunje, have not received letters of appointment from the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) as demanded by public employment conditions. Meanwhile, their colleagues from MCP and other parties have received their letters of appointment.
It is my sincere hope that the President will soon take heed of a strong legal advice by the Attorney General Dr. Chikosa Silungwe that these willy-nilly transfers and dismissals shall soon backfire and cost more poor Malawians as taxpayers
His Excellency, President Dr. Chakwera is a Man of God. I wish to remind him and his government the following:
1. Saul planned to kill David, but he was the first to die before David;
2. Jezebel planned to kill Elijah, but God took him and Jezebel died and was eaten by dogs;
3. Haman planned to hang Mordecai, but he ended up being hanged himself;
4. Governors and Satraps in Babylon plotted that Daniel must be eaten by the lions, but they ended up being eaten themselves;
5. Judas planned to kill Jesus, but Judas was the one who died first before Jesus; and
6. Herod the great planned to kill Jesus but he was the first to die.
We shall not fear those who plan against our lives because we are aware that there is God in Heaven who has our days recorded in His book.
We are aware that the devil shall come like a flood but the Spirit of the Lord shall raise up the banner to stop him. Our enemies shall come from one direction but they shall run away in seven directions. We belong to the Highest God and we do not need to be dismayed or confused.
If you attack us, you attack Jesus and therefore you will not prevail against God.
For my fellow DPP and UDF members, I say please take comfort in the word of God from the Bible, Joshua Chapter 1 verse 9 and I quote: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Lastly, fellow Malawians let us continue to follow the covid-19 regulations as this is the only we can beat this “monster “.
Madam Speaker and Honourable Members,
With these remarks, I thank you for your kind attention.
May God Bless you all May God Bless Mother Malawi.