RESPONSE BY RT. HON. DR. KONDWANI NANKHUMWA, MP LEADER OF OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT TO STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY DR. LAZARUS CHAKWERA PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF MALAWI 2024/2025 BUDGET SESSION, FOURTH MEETING IN THE 50TH SESSION OF PARLIAMENT LILONGWE, MALAWI
Monday, 12th February 2024
Right Honourable Catherine Gotani Hara, Speaker of the National Assembly;
Fellow Members of this august House;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
As we reflect on the State of the Nation Address delivered by President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera last Friday, I am reminded of the solemn duty we bear as representatives of the people of Malawi. I am reminded that we gather here not as mere political adversaries, but as stewards of the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of every Malawian citizen. This is the reason why our primary loyalty should be to Malawians.
Like it has been the case with President Lazarus Chakwera’s three previous SONAs, this SONA also outlined a narrative of progress and promise, yet it is incumbent upon us, the opposition, to scrutinize beyond the rhetoric and assess the true state of our nation. For in the shadows of every achievement lie the echoes of unmet expectations, the reverberations of unaddressed grievances, and the silent struggles of those still waiting for the fruits of governance to reach their doorsteps.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon all of us not to shy away from speaking the difficult truths that confront our nation. Let us speak boldly and fearlessly, not for the sake of partisan politics, but for the sake of accountability, transparency, and the collective welfare of our people.
Before I proceed with my substantive remarks, allow me a moment to reflect on my own position as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. I am certain that all Honourable members in this august House are well aware of the treatment that my colleagues and I have been subjected to in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Without delving into the horrible details, I wish to convey the following message. Malawi attained multiparty democracy in 1994, a period marked by excitement and the hope for an era of inclusiveness and tolerance in diversity.
This hope was rooted in the understanding that although we have differences, as human beings, it is possible to have individual freedom of thought and expression. This understanding is grounded in the fact that we cannot all think alike.
Ideally, this understanding should have permeated institutions of democracy such as our political parties. Political parties should have respected their own intra-party democratic frameworks and fostered an inclusive mindset. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case with some political parties.
They have chosen a regressive path, embracing the ‘big man’s syndrome’ and cultivating inner-circle rings to suppress anyone who expresses dissent or disagrees with them.
I firmly believe in the power of posterity, drawing inspiration from the biblical story of Joseph in Genesis 37:20, who rose to prominence despite being cast aside by his brothers.
They threw him into a pit, believing they had disposed of him forever, yet he eventually ascended to lord over them.
As South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela once said, “It is through openness and inclusivity that we find the strength to overcome adversity.” With this sentiment in mind, Madam Speaker, allow me to address the substantive issues of my remarks this afternoon.
SUBSTANTIVE MATTERS IN THE SONA
I wish to begin by acknowledging President Lazarus Chakwera’s sobering assessment in his SONA, where he candidly admitted to the prolonged stagnation of our economic fundamentals. Yes, it is disheartening to confront the harsh reality that our economy is ailing, with a mere 0.6 percent growth recorded between 2022 and 2023. Additionally, the current economic growth projection falls below expectations.
The President rightly implored Malawians to approach matters with the gravity they deserve, emphasizing the need for seriousness in our efforts towards economic recovery and progress.
This call to action reminds me of one of our former presidents, who famously declared that governance is serious business. It is, however, evident that only a handful, truly match their rhetoric with tangible actions on the ground.
This is the fourth SONA delivered by President Lazarus Chakwera. It is imperative to recognize that these addresses do not exist in isolation. They serve as reflections of our nation’s state, contextualized within the lived realities of our people.
Unfortunately, over the past three years, a glaring disparity has emerged between the promises articulated within this august House and the stark realities faced by our citizens. This dissonance underscores the urgent need for meaningful discourse and decisive action to address our economic challenges. In the spirit of constructive dialogue, it is incumbent upon all of us, as representatives of the people, to confront this incongruity head-on.
We were elected to this esteemed Chamber with the solemn mandate of finding viable solutions to the myriad economic woes plaguing our nation. It is such important for us to commit ourselves to bridging the gap between governmental aspirations and the lived experiences of our constituents, thereby fulfilling our duty to serve and uplift our nation.
It is an open secret that the Malawian economy is far from ideal, with key economic indicators such as slow GDP growth, high inflation rates, and unemployment painting a grim picture of its current state.
By his own admission, President Lazarus Chakwera acknowledged that Malawians are enduring compounded pain due to the ailing economy.
I have addressed the issue of high basic commodity prices for far too long.
However, I would be failing in my duty if I do not specifically address the issue of shortage of sugar and its soaring prices.
The price of sugar on the local market is averaging K2, 500, which many Malawian households cannot afford. The actual scarcity of sugar on the market is compounding the crisis, and where it is available, the traders are rationing it to satisfy demand.
Why we are unable to give our own people this very important and basic commodity but we are able to export sugar to other countries in Africa and overseas? Sugar is a stable ingredient in many households in Malawi.
I demand that the government takes immediate action to address this issue to ensure that Malawians have access to this essential commodity at affordable prices.
In order to address the scarcity of sugar and soaring prices, the government may consider providing subsidies to sugar producers to incentivize increased production and stabilize prices; improving infrastructure such as irrigation systems and transportation networks to enhance productivity and distribution; and implementing regulations to prevent hoarding and price manipulation, among others. Let us manage this sugar crisis with the urgency it deserves.
Our fiscal deficit remains persistently high, with efforts to transition Malawi into a predominantly producing country continuously misfiring.
The economic anthem sung by Malawians since President Lazarus Chakwera’s last SONA in 2023 has been nothing short of a lament. In that SONA, the President pledged to exert his utmost effort to revitalize the economy. Yet, here we stand.
Of course, the government deserves commendation for its endeavors to achieve macroeconomic stability, particularly in securing budgetary support from the IMF, World Bank, and other bilateral partners.
I also wish to commend the government for making bold decisions, such as mandating all parastatals and government institutions to bank with the Reserve Bank of Malawi. I firmly believe that these decisions will significantly mitigate domestic borrowing, which has soared to unsustainable levels under the current administration.
Indeed, bold decisions are imperative to diversify the economy beyond reliance on IMF and World Bank assistance. For too long, we have advocated for economic diversification and a heightened focus on investment in production for exports.
The question remains, is the government genuinely committed to injecting the necessary impetus into the private sector to stimulate economic growth? The answer seems elusive.
While I applaud the government for prioritizing investment in key sectors such as agriculture, tourism, and mining to bolster production, creates wealth and jobs, I wish to urge President Chakwera and the government to translate their rhetoric into substantive action across all fronts.
For too many times, we have decried the prevalence of officers and politicians in this government engaging in backdoor dealings, or the use of ‘dobadobas’ to cut deals under the guise of attracting investors.
Despite clear indications of corruption, the government appears reluctant to crack down on wrongdoers. In the process, billions of Kwacha in taxpayer money, have been squandered yet accountability remains elusive.
How does this complacent attitude align with the seriousness proclaimed in the President’s SONA? If we are genuinely committed to fostering economic growth and improving people’s livelihoods, President Lazarus Chakwera and the government must lead by example and demonstrate the sincerity they preach.
While the Affordable Inputs Program (AIP) is undoubtedly well-intentioned, it is no secret that the program has encountered significant challenges since this government assumed power. Many of these challenges are man-made and entirely avoidable.
Under this administration, AIP has consistently failed, primarily due to issues of corruption, underhand practices, and insider dealings. Frankly speaking, in its current form, AIP is unsustainable and represents a significant drain on taxpayers’ money without yielding tangible returns.
Those advocating for alternative programs to replace AIP have valid points, and shifting focus to mega farms is indeed sensible. I urge the government to thoroughly reassess this program.
We cannot afford to continue pouring billions of Kwacha into a program designed to ensure food security at household and national levels while facing recurring hunger year after year.
There must be a deliberate policy to ramp up investments in irrigation and commercial agriculture, leveraging technology in light of changing climatic conditions.
On a similar note, I wish to draw your attention to the current dry spell affecting many parts of the country. The maize is wilting, a clear indication that we may face hunger next season. It is imperative that the government should start planning now to avert a bigger food crisis.
The government must consider urgently supporting winter cropping as a means to mitigate the effects of this impending hunger and prevent starvation among many Malawians. This can be achieved through a deliberate policy to distribute affordable farm inputs to farmers cultivating in dambos, enabling them to produce timely crops to alleviate the impact of the dry spell on our citizens.
Turning to the issue of mega farms, there is a pressing need for greater seriousness.
Thus far, the mega farms we have seen are primarily government-initiated projects, with minimal private sector involvement.
While the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) has shown promise in managing mega farms, it is crucial to acknowledge that this is not its core competence nor should it become its primary focus. I urge the government to actively encourage private sector investment in mega farms, including attracting international investors.
Local commercial banks should be encouraged to play a pivotal role in facilitating this shift by moving away from reliance on government lending and instead fostering an enabling environment for private sector partnerships and innovation. Such a shift will help reduce domestic borrowing and promote sustainable economic growth.
LABOUR EXPORT DEAL
The Israel labour export deal has the potential to alleviate the issues of unemployment and poverty among our youths, while also generating foreign exchange for the country.
However, there are still unclear aspects to the deal. For example, reports from Israel indicate that numerous agents with divergent conditions are involved, leading to confusion. This lack of coordination is detrimental to achieving the core objectives of this deal.
The government must consolidate these aspects into a cohesive deal with a clearly defined framework. Given Israel’s status as a country in a state of war, a scatter-gun labor export policy with numerous loopholes is the last thing we need as a country. Guarantees and safety measures must be put in place to provide clear guidelines and recourse in case of eventualities.
Moving forward, the Israel deal should serve as a guideline and learning opportunity for Malawi. Israel’s primary reliance on irrigation for agriculture in its arid environment, contrasts with Malawi’s abundant water resources and fertile soil.
Ideally, the Israelis should be coming to Malawi to learn about agriculture, yet the situation is reversed. To reverse this trend, investment in the agriculture sector and a paradigm shift in mindset are imperative.
We must cultivate a collective “can-do” attitude to uplift ourselves from this position of shame.
Political theorist and one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin once said “Investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
RELOCATING PUBLIC ENTITIES FROM BLANTYRE TO LILONGWE
I wish to address a matter that I believe is crucial to the overall well-being of our economy.
Over the past two years, the government has been relocating the headquarters of various parastatals, government departments and agencies from Blantyre to Lilongwe. I strongly condemn this move, as it contradicts the principle of equitable distribution of resources within an economy.
When the late Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda relocated the Capital City from Zomba to Lilongwe, Zomba suffered immensely; its economy dwindled, and livelihoods were shattered. We cannot allow a similar fate to befall Blantyre, especially considering the lack of a convincing rationale provided by the government for this policy direction.
Moreover, it appears that this decision is being executed without a coherent plan. If unchecked, Lilongwe will soon become an overpopulated city, plagued by the negative consequences of unplanned urbanization.
We are already witnessing a rise in criminal activities and the emergence of slums in the Capital City. Furthermore, public health concerns, such as Cholera outbreaks resulting from poor hygiene due to overcrowding, are becoming increasingly prevalent. One must question whether the President is receiving sound advice on this matter.
It is imperative that the government considers the wider ramifications and strive for balanced development across all regions. Have these concerns been raised directly with our representatives or the government officials?
The objective of the Local Council Act is to empower councils and districts so that development is evenly distributed.
Therefore, the decision to transfer headquarters of parastatals, government departments and agencies to Lilongwe goes counter to this empowering framework.
Similarly, I wish to bring to your attention the fact that local councils are burdened with heavy debts, which is negatively affecting service delivery. I am informed that local councils have a total of K16 billion in arrears that they owe service providers. Local councils are essential entities responsible for providing various services to citizens, such as waste management, infrastructure development, and social services. The local councils are currently facing financial challenges, hindering their ability to deliver on the mandate.
I wish to suggest that the government urgently considers providing financial support to local councils through grants, subsidies, or low-interest loans to help them settle their debts and improve their financial position. I also wish to propose 50 percent devolution in the drug budget to councils from the current 10 percent.
I now wish to address the issue of transport infrastructure, particularly in light of the President’s emphasis on various infrastructure projects, including roads. While these initiatives are undoubtedly positive, I am concerned about the disproportionate allocation of road infrastructure projects to the central region, notably favoring Lilongwe.
It begs the question, why is Lilongwe reaping the lion’s share of these developments while cities like Blantyre and Mzuzu are left wanting? Can the government provide a more equitable explanation for this distribution?
I also feel that it is not right to have so many projects that are not being completed. You will agree with me that Lilongwe has indeed been turned into a construction site whose completion date is not clear.
The government’s priority should be the timely and efficient completion of projects rather than initiating numerous ventures with uncertain timelines. The sluggish progress of these projects raises concerns about the premature practice of naming roads after politicians.
Would it not be more prudent to wait until projects are finalized before bestowing such honors? After all, why name a road that won’t be completed for another three years?
There is a pressing need for the construction of international stadiums in the three main regions of our country, spanning across the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu.
While we have stadiums in many districts, it is imperative that we undertake further initiatives to enhance and elevate sporting standards, including football, mirroring the achievements of nations like Angola, Cape Verde and Mauritania, hitherto regarded as underdogs, who have showcased remarkable results at the just-ended AFCON tournament.
I wish to commend the manifesto put forth by the newly-elected Football Association of Malawi (FAM) President, Mr. Fleetwood Haiya. His dedication to enhancing the profile of football in our nation is evident, and I implore the government, through the Ministry of Sports, to extend unwavering support to his endeavors.
Moreover, just as we honor political figures, it is fitting to commemorate sports and other personalities by naming key projects after them.
Figures such as sports men and women Young Chimodzi Senior, Kinnah Phiri, Lawrence ‘ Lule’ Waya, Mary Waya, Mwawi Kumwenda, Isaac Chilemba, Ernest ‘Chirwali’ Mtawali, Thompson Mtengula, Reuben Malola, Spy and Zorro Msiska, DD Phiri, Professor David Rubadiri, multiparty democracy icons Chakufwa ‘Simbi ya Moto’ Chihana and Kamlepo Kalua, musicians Giddes Chalamanda, Sir Paul Banda, Lucius Banda, Allan Namoko, States Samangaya, psychologist Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe, and many others, have made significant contributions across various sectors in our country and deserve recognition for their invaluable roles.
FALSE ELECTION PROMISES
As you are aware, the election season is upon us. This is the season where politicians and political parties become hysterical with promises, some of them clearly impossible and unsustainable.
Already, some political parties are busy telling Malawians that when they win government power in 2025, they will reduce the price of fuel to K600; the price of fertilizer will come down to K15, 000 per bag. This is clearly taking Malawians for granted.
You know as they do that it is impossible to achieve or fulfill those unrealistic promises. Our economy is drifting in tandem with global dynamics and Malawians can tell a false promise when they see one. I wish to warn Malawians to be careful when dealing with such crooked politicians.
In conclusion, let us remember that Malawi is our shared home, a land that holds our collective hopes, dreams, and aspirations. As citizens, we do not have the luxury of elsewhere to turn to; thus, it is incumbent upon us to cherish and safeguard the freedoms and opportunities that this nation affords us.
Let us guard our freedoms jealously while we labour diligently to give a better Malawi to the next generation.
Let us draw inspiration from Proverbs 24:27, “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.”
Let us diligently prepare the groundwork for a thriving nation, ensuring that every Malawian has the opportunity to fulfill their potential and contribute meaningfully to our collective progress.
With unity of purpose and unwavering determination, we can overcome any challenge and realize the bright future that awaits us.
THANK YOU, MADAM SPEAKER, AND MAY GOD BLESS MALAWI
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