Analysts have rated President Lazarus Chakwera’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) highly, saying it inspires confidence and hope.
Rarely do analysts speak the same language when asked to react to the Sona but random interviews at Parliament yesterday showed that Chakwera lived up to the expectations of many.
We spoke to National Planning Commission (NPC), Afidep, Oxfam, FDH Bank and the US Embassy officials who all seem to see a lot of maturity and positives in Chakwera’s address especially for its alignment to the country’s development blueprint Malawi 2063–the country’s long term development plan after the failed vision 2020.
At the centre of Chakwera’s delivery is a strategy he called ATM: Agriculture, Tourism and Mining. He believes these are areas that will propel economic growth.
Throughout his delivery, the President linked his plan to Malawi 2063. NPC director general Thomas Munthali said this is “the most Mw2063-centric Sona”.
He said: “It enthuses so much hope. It places wealth creation at the centre in language and priorities of focus. It sends the correct signals to all stakeholders—Parliament, MDAs, non-State actors and citizens on the importance of getting serious in living the talk of wealth creation”.
Munthali said Chakwera has set the most important tone and “we all have to hold each other accountable to get this into action”.
Chakwera signs the Visitors’ Book in the presence of the Speaker
In an interview, African Institute for Development Policy (Afidep) executive director Eliya Zulu described the speech as quite assuring.
Zulu said: “What is even more inspiring is the fact that most of the speech focused on things that are working. This helps to also focus on positives and we have to build on these positives.”
“We also have renewed confidence from donors—you talk of ECF [International Monetary Fund’s Extended Credit Facility] and the flowing direct budget support…he has talked about infrastructure projects all of which, if implemented, would take Malawi somewhere”.
The President also hit hard at commercial banks when he announced a policy shift that all State-owned enterprises and parastatals should have their accounts at the Reserve Bank of Malawi.
Said Chakwera: “My reason for doing that is simple: the practice over the past 20 years of having public bodies deposit their revenues with commercial banks so that Government is made to borrow its own money at high interest rates for the enrichment of a few is a practice that lacks seriousness; and you
can go tell whoever created that system that by the end of this coming fiscal year, I am shutting it down”.
Reacting to this, FDH Bank managing director Noel Mkulichi downplayed the impact of this policy direction, saying it may not really affect banks, adding that Chakwera’s statement offers more opportunities to the financial sector.
He said: “It is not really a blow. Banks will still benefit in several ways. The accounts may be domiciled at RBM but certain payments will still go through commercial banks. I must also say this is one of the best Sonas I have ever listened to especially with emphasis on three items: Agriculture, Tourism and Mining. All these provide us with an opportunity to benefit,” he said.
Mkulichi also said he is particularly excited with a promise to introduce tougher legislation to sanitise the mining sector.
On job creation, he said FDH Bank will continue providing support to the youth that are going to Israel for work. Some of these workers have a foreign-dominated account with FDH Bank which also provides soft loans for air tickets.
“This is our contribution and we will continue to provide this support. We are excited to hear that the Israeli government is offering up to 100 000 jobs to Malawians. We have the capacity to manage even this number,” Mkulichi added.
Oxfam country director Lingalireni Mihowa praised Chakwera for his honesty to acknowledge challenges facing the country and putting in place trustworthy measures to address the same.
She said: “It is a statement that was honest. It was very clear from the beginning that Malawi has faced difficulties—the economic depression we have faced but the best thing he did was to inspire hope in Malawians.
“He was thorough in his report on what government has achieved so far. I am also happy that he has been consistent; his statement was well aligned to the ATM strategy because whilst we have the Malawi 2063, it is important for us to be focused.” Mihowa said the President has provided inspiring direction and so it would be important for ministers and technocrats to live the talk as implementation is always a problem.
US Deputy Ambassador Amy Diaz while heaping praise on Chakwera’s speech, said there is need to strengthen accountability mechanisms so that the laid down plan is implemented without distraction.
She said as development partners they welcome the President’s vision and will do their part to support Malawi achieve its development goals.
Since assuming office following a court-sanctioned fresh presidential election in June 2020, this is Chakwera’s fifth Sona and probably one of the highly-rated on reactions.