Rafiq Hajat 0

A Better Malawi Is Possible

60 people have signed this petition. Add your name now!
Rafiq Hajat 0 Comments
60 people have signed. Add your voice!
Maxine K. signed just now
Adam B. signed just now

In legitimate exercise of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, We being Members of Civil Society, have joined hands with Workers, Faith Communities and Concerned Citizens from all walks of life, to hold peaceful country-wide mass demonstrations today, Wednesday, 20th July 2011, with the theme: “Uniting for Peaceful Resistance Against Poor Economic and Democratic Governance – “A Better Malawi Is Possible”. These demonstrations are part of a series of nation-wide mass actions that will continue to respond to such crises until feasible solutions have been found and implemented. Malawi is currently facing a series of catastrophes on multiple fronts due to economic mismanagement and democratic derogation by the incumbent leadership and administration. The current leadership and administration continue to disregard caution and advice regarding the crises, choosing to engage in empty political rhetoric without providing any actionable solutions or alternatives. Any dissenting or alternative views result in adversarial clamp downs, a practice that is unacceptable within the current democratic dispensation that we all fought hard for and are prepared to defend at all costs. The challenges currently facing Malawi are too numerous to mention, however the following issues may suffice to demonstrate the cause of our discomfort; Acute Foreign Exchange Shortages Malawi has experienced acute shortages of foreign exchange for over 2 years, with no end in sight. Indeed, there is cause to believe that the current shortages are the worst in our 47 year history since the attainment of independence. Significant numbers of people scramble in queues for any forex that may be available at any foreign exchange point, in a pathetic display of fruitless desperation. The acute shortages have had many adverse consequences such as: scarcity of products and services due to difficulties in importation of essential products; Malawians have searched in vain for forex to: pay expenses when travelling abroad; purchasing products which are not produced locally; send school fees for dependants studying abroad; pay for examination fees to foreign education providers; access treatment for vital medical facilities; Numerous reasons, such as poor tobacco sales which has dwindled by over 70%, have been forwarded to explain the shortage of forex in Malawi, but these merely illustrate a yawning divide between advice from economic experts and rhetorical defences offered by the Government which merely serve to increase confusion and uncertainty. However, one fact remains indisputable and that is: the forex crisis continues to escalate and the current administration has failed to demonstrate the ability to reverse the situation any time soon. Acute Fuel Shortage: Malawi is now labelled as a 'fuel queue nation' This year has seen the most acute fuel shortages in Malawi in 47 years since independence. Extremely long queues of cars have become a common feature at every filling station, with people waiting for hours or even days to access a few litres of fuel. The acute and incessant fuel shortages have caused shrinkages in transportation which have drastically limited travel. Service providers are unable to transport products around the country, leading to shortage of products and services. Stocks in supermarket and grocery shelves are gradually dwindling. Critical services such as health services have not been spared and workers face a daily struggle in commuting between workplace and home. Freight hauliers have been severely constricted and are facing disaster looming closer by the day. All these are visible signs of economic regression which, if not checked immediately, could result in a total breakdown. Reasons provided by the current administration regarding the causes of the fuel shortage have been unsatisfactory and at times embarrassingly derisive. There has been notable differences and at times contradictions in reasons provided by the Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL) on the one hand, and Government pronouncements on the other. However most people will agree that the current political leadership has not demonstrated any ability or vision that would reverse the dismal situation any time soon and the resultant sense of uncertainty merely serves to intensify the sense of doom and gloom afflicting the nation. Electricity Shortages Never has Malawi suffered more from acute electricity shortages in all its 47 years of independence than within the past 2 years despite the fact that, after all these years, only 6% of the population have access to electricity. The recent announcement by ESCOM of power cuts for 8 hours every day for the rest of the year have only increased the sense of despair amongst the people who cannot lead normal daily lives due to fear of blackouts. Industries are hard hit by insufficient power for optimal production of vital products which may even substitute imports. Work-flow is constantly interrupted by equipment switching off intermittently. Huge costs are incurred in repairing equipment that have been damaged by power fluctuations and the cost of installing massive generators in an effort to keep going. Indeed, a classic example is the failure of ESCOM to guarantee supply of adequate power to Paladin for processing uranium at Kayelekera thereby necessitating installation of massive diesel generators, which need 3000 litres per day to ensure production – thus ESCOM lost potential extra business amounting to millions of Kwacha every month due to its own complacent inefficiency. It is obvious that the current administration is unable to reverse the situation in spite of unwarranted rate hikes and the desperate need for effective solutions. Water Shortages It is ironic that in a country so richly endowed with water resources such as Malawi, one has to suffer the humiliation of being unable to perform daily chores due to the increasingly poor standards of water supply by the Water Boards. Many reasons have been cited for this inadequacy but the main ones are: Erratic power supply from ESCOM which affects the pumping of water at source. However it is worth mentioning that, in the Southern Region, water is pumped approx 700 metres into the air to gain enough height for gravity feed into Blantyre. This system is ludicrously expensive and wasteful. Thus Blantyre Water Board pays ESCOM millions of Kwacha (inclusive of VAT) every month for shoddy power supply which has a tendency to fail without warning. The water supply infrastructure in Malawi is ageing and thus unable to satisfy growing demand. Even worse, the system has developed so many leakages that the amount of water lost between pumping at source and delivery to tap is well over 50% which means that less than 50 litres of water out of every 100 litres pumped, will eventually reach our taps. This is a massive loss and cannot be sustained for much longer. The international standard for Unaccounted For Water (UFW) is less than 15% and it is essential to achieve this standard for a fair pricing mechanism and uninterrupted supply of water to be possible. However the Boards who have been appointed through political patronage rather than merit or relevance, seem unable to grasp this thorny issue with the firmness and resolve necessary to effect the appropriate changes and instead resort to hiking water tariffs again and again to cover up mounting losses. Thus the miserable consumer is forced to pay ever increasing rates for constantly declining standards in water delivery. Lack of Economic Prudence The current administration has continued to wantonly squander public funds with unchecked profligacy and cavalier disregard for current economic hardships created by the mismanagement afflicting the populace. The list of anomalies are lengthy, but some major issues would arise from the following:- In 2010, the President secretly authorised the purchase of a private jet costing US$13 million - equivalent to half the budgetary support that Malawi's major donor contributed. The purchase was made with total disdain of condemnation from different stakeholders within Malawi and beyond. The amount spent was equivalent to annual salaries of approximately 5,000 nurses or approximately 11,555 primary school teachers. The infamous Presidential Jet remains a sore point since it has no place in an impoverished country like Malawi which must attend to other priorities such as combating poverty and illiteracy before succumbing to consumerist luxuries. Since the first Cabinet comprising 29 Ministers in 2004, the size of the current Cabinet has grown to 41, leading to a monthly wage bill of over MK15,000,000.00, which would fund monthly salaries of 428 nurses or 1,000 primary school teachers. It is important to note that this Cabinet of 41 also includes Deputy Minsters who, in most cases, have been awarded positions as a reward for political favours and not on merit and could thus be disposed of without any loss in efficacy. At the beginning of 2011, the President secretly awarded a contract to his wife, the First Lady, Callista Mutharika, leading to a payment in arrears, of MK6,400,400 for the period before the contract was signed, and subsequent salary of MK1,300,000 per month – ostensibly for doing charity work. The contract was pushed through highly irregular manner despite condemnation from various sectors of society. The First Lady's salary is equivalent to monthly salaries for 30 nurses or 93 primary school teachers. A huge contract for the construction and management of the (in) famous Nsanje Inland Port was awarded in a non transparent and dubious manner to Mota Engil, a foreign construction company who appears to enjoy presidential favour. The same company is rumoured to have built a palace at Ndata Farm (the Presidents personal estate) and has now won a concession for oil and gas drilling in the Lake. Regardless of the above manifestations of economic imprudence, Government shamelessly offer lame justifications to exonerate themselves whilst indulging in personal avarice without due regard for their responsibility to the public. Corruption and Abuse of Power There are strong suspicions that this leadership and administration is condoning corruption and abuse of power by a 'favoured few'. Recently, the Malawi Housing Corporation sold houses to selected staff, Cabinet Ministers, and DPP officials at grossly reduced prices, leading to a net loss of over MK100 million. The leadership and administration remain quiet and the Anti Corruption Bureau appears unable to investigate further thereby giving rise to fears of an official cover up. During his 2 terms of office, the current President appears to have amassed significant wealth that does not tally with his salary of approximately MK2,000,000 per month. Within 3 years of being power in 2007, Mutharika purchased land in Thyolo at an alleged price of MK 70 million. He then proceeded to develop part of the land at an exorbitant cost which requires clear explanation to allay suspicion. Massive corruption appears to be the order of the day. Malawians witness a few individuals in Government who have amassed considerable wealth at public expense. These individuals build expensive houses, own fleets of cars and indulge openly in displays of fabulous opulence that seems to have magically appeared without a visible source. The Government may be aware of this but no visible steps are being taken to stop such malpractices or to recover wealth gleaned in such dishonest manner. Disrespect of the Rule of Law The deliberate disregard of the Constitution and the rule of law by the Government has become the norm rather than an exception as evinced by the following examples: The DPP abused its majority in Parliament to pass an amendment to Section 46 of the Penal Code allowing the Minister for Information to ban publications 'deemed to be contrary to the public interest'. This law has taken Malawi backwards in terms of guaranteeing media freedoms contained under chapter VI of the Constitution and poses a major threat of arbitrary censorship for the independent media that is already reeling from suspension of advertisements as a form of chastisement and the recent imposition of VAT which has forced the price of newspapers upwards beyond the reach of most ordinary Malawians. All the vociferous protests had little or no effect and the bill was passed with cursory scrutiny by the (Dis) Honourable House. The DPP majority in Parliament was again invoked to pass the Civil Procedure (Suits By Or Against The Government or Public Officers) (Amendment) Bill, 2010, otherwise popularly known as the infamous 'Injunctions Bill', which denies supplicants the right to instant relief when they are under threat by an actioned undertaken by any Government agency or Officer. The President recently assented to the bill with cavalier disregard for the massive public outcry, condemnation, a revolt amongst Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) MPs in Parliament and a court injunction against the assent of the bill Apart from the bills cited above, the DPP led Government also passed the Police Act which empowers the Police to search any house without a search warrant, the Pensions Bill which contains several grossly inequitable provisions, the Local Courts Bill (previously known as the infamous Traditional Courts), a Constitutional amendment on timing and methodology of Local Government Elections, and the Protected Names, Flags and Emblems bill which changed the national flag at huge cost whilst dismissing widespread protest as drunken ravings of ignorant fools Local Government Elections Local Government elections continue to be elusive with little or no interest manifested by the DPP led Government. Since election into power with an overwhelming, there have been deliberate efforts to avert or interrupt the holding of local Government elections in Malawi. Recently the Electoral Commission was abruptly closed (a questionable abuse of power) on allegations of massive fraud involving huge sums of money. The Government consequently reopened the Commission without any official explanation on the outcome of their initial investigations. The administration is now attempting to amend the law to allow for local Government elections to be held after the expiry of the current term of office thereby giving rise to profound suspicion that something is being covered up. In addition, new appointments will soon be made to the Commission and these are already raising alarm signals due to the candidates being considered and the opacity of the process. The neutrality and very integrity of the Commission may be compromised irrevocably in the public eye if the matter is not handled with extreme transparency. In any case, it is quite obvious that the current administration will not hold local Government elections during its 2 terms of office, with blatant disregard for any constitutional requirements to the contrary. The University of Malawi Crisis The current stalemate between the University Council and staff from its 2 constituent colleges, (Chancellor College and Polytechnic) remains in stalemate despite all the effort and posturing. For over 100 days, the leadership refused to recognise legitimate demands by the academic staff unions from the 2 constituent colleges, leading to an unnecessary stand-off This has cost students valuable learning time and disrupted the general academic calendar and can easily be described as the worst crisis in the history of the University of Malawi, but it has been aggravated due to the intransigence and truculence of the Establishment which takes its lead from the Head of State in adopting inflexible stances that thwart all conciliatory efforts. Political Intolerance and Violence Of late, a noticeable trend of violence and intolerance against critics and those with differing views has emerged with tacit official approval: The President has deliberately demonised his Vice Presidents during his last two terms of office, thereby deliberately weakening powers which are enshrined in the Constitution. The failure to work with Vice Presidents has seriously disrupted the role of the Office of the Vice President in the performance of governmental duties; In recent times, the President has deliberately crippled the office of the Vice President based on personal grudges and differing views. This year, the budget of the Office of the Vice President was significantly reduced to a pittance. The President continues to castigate the Vice President in public rallies, by hurling epithets whilst she continues to hold her peace. This issue appears to emanate from the thorny question of succession – i.e. who will take the office if the President is incapacitated? The Constitution endows that role to the Vice President and this apparently is the root of the problem because the President wishes to choose his own successor and is unable to do so whilst the Vice President is in place. This year, the President instructed the ruling DPP party youth cadres to 'protect him' as a response to widespread criticism on his governance style. The instruction was followed by a public statement from DPP leaders vowing to use 'all possible means' to protect their leader. Since that instruction, some outspoken Civil Society leaders have been attacked or received threats, leading to general fear and terror. Experts have cautioned that such public remarks by leaders have the potential to lead to violence or conflict thereby creating a 'culture of fear' that is becoming more visible by the day. There are many indications that the current leadership does not accept any criticism or dissenting views. Those who have dissenting views, within the ruling party or without, are destined to suffer violence or adversity in one way or another. This has led to reluctance amongst institutional heads and ruling party officials which prevents them from offering alternative views that may run contrary to the Party line. Following a leaked confidential diplomatic cable addressed to the Foreign Office in London in which the British High Commissioner described challenges facing Malawi, the President took the unprecedented step of deporting the British Envoy from Malawi back to the UK. This contributed to the deportation of the Malawi envoy from the UK and subsequent withdrawal of the British contribution (30%) to the Malawi budget. This serves a vivid testimony of the sheer arrogance of our leadership who appears to be able to summarily terminate a relationship that has nurtured and supported Malawi for nearly 50 years – regardless of the cost to the Nation in general and the poorest sectors of society in particular. When civil society were organising a 'bicycle march' demonstration protesting the prevalence of fuel crises in the country,the Government threatened to block the planned demonstration by introducing prohibitive monetary deposits (MK2million) as a requirement prior to holding mass demonstrations. Indeed, there are already reports of the Government threatening to disrupt the mass action by mobilising rabble rousers to disturb the envisaged Peaceful Nationwide Mass Demonstration and arresting the so called ring leaders who have mobilised the populace to protest against the current state of affairs.. Demands and Recommendations In summary, we conclude that the current leadership and administration has failed to convince us that the issues raised will be resolved or reversed any time soon. As such, we would only be convinced otherwise when concrete and actionable solutions with short term time frames and deadlines are proposed. In light of the numerous issues raised above, we demand that the Government to take the following remedial steps: Sell the Presidential jet and minimise all foreign trips by the Head of State; Ban all importation of luxury cars (M/benz, Limousines, and Luxurious 4x4s). Any new cars for the President, Ministers or State Officials must reflect our impoverished state and should spurn outlandish ostentation; All foreign trips by Ministers and State officials must be severely curtailed forthwith; Superfluous costs such as the new 'eavesdropping' machine being installed at a cost of US$6 million by MACRA merely to assuage creeping paranoia in an unconstitutional manner must be discontinued and reversed forthwith; Zimbabwe must immediately repay the US$20 million that has long been outstanding for food supplied by Malawi. The payment can be made in cash or in fuel; Scrutinise all fertiliser imports for the previous year to track the fairness of the pricing – all those who have inflated their costings must be brought to book and penalised for the full amount of overpricing as well as harsh penalties for committing the crime. Scrutinise all fuel imports for overpricing practices and bring the perpetrators to book. All forex gained through such malpractices must be returned to Malawi immediately; Massive fuel importers such as Paladin (usage: 3,000 litres diesel per day) must use their own forex reserves to bring in their fuel and should not drain Malawi's scarce reserves; Fuel levies should be minimised to lower the (artificial) cost of fuel and make it more affordable for Malawians and thereby exert anti inflationary pressure on the economy; Allow independent importation of fuel by any entrepreneur who has the means – this will break the stranglehold monopoly of PIL and open the market for free competition; Identify other source of fuel such as Zambia, which usually has excess capacity in its oil refinery which could be utilised by Malawi. Paladin's exports of 'yellow cake' must be checked to ensure that a fair market price is being charged and the proceeds are being brought back to Malawi without any transfer pricing; Gemstone exports must be monitored closely by trained experts to ensure that fair values are being declared. Malawi may have been short changed for decades in this area due to lack of capacity and negligence; It may be necessary, in the short term, to listen to the IMF and devalue our currency in order to gain their approval which would then open the doors for other Donors to come in and pump much needed forex into our flagging economy. The inflationary aspects of this can be countered by other anti inflationary measures. It is essential to immediately mend fences with our long term development partners, the British Government by apologising for the diplomatic faux pas and making amends. Their contribution to our economy is too significant to shrug off with cavalier disdain – especially when it means that the poorest sections of society will be worst afflicted by the suspension of British aid. The bloated Cabinet must be trimmed to 14 members and their allowances of fuel and air time adjusted to reasonable levels with immediate effect; All punitive taxes on essential commodities and services must be lifted forthwith; A Consultative Forum comprising all major stakeholders in Malawi must be formed to dissect, analyse, debate and identify solutions for the myriad challenges facing Malawi. This grouping should have tangible power to influence government policies and legislation. Time frame We hereby propose that: 1.Within reasonable time, adopt measures and actions that ensure availability of and access to forex. 2.Adopt special measures to avail adequate forex to Petroleum Importers Limited and other suppliers so that they are able to import fuel without interruption as soon as possible. 3.The ESCOM and Water Boards and top management should be replaced with independent experts who, within 3 months, must demonstrate that the acute shortages have begun to reverse. In addition, form a consultative forum which solicits input from all stakeholders who may have valuable information, ideas and new concepts pertaining to issues of capacity, cost of power generation and water supply; 4.The Anti corruption Bureau should commence an investigation of all people implicated in the recent Malawi Housing house sale scandal within the next few months. The investigation must be conducted in a thorough and transparent manner with regular public updates to avoid doubts from lingering any further. 5.The Anti Corruption Bureau should start investigating ALL Cabinet Ministers and public servants on unexplained wealth accumulated whilst holding office. The Penal Code calls upon all citizens to explain the source of their wealth, All moneys stolen should be returned. In addition, the Declaration of Assets Bill should be ratified as soon as possible; 6.The President should fully declare his assets, explaining sources of funds to acquire and develop Ndata farm by the end of this financial tax year; 7.The First Lady's contract should be nullified forthwith and all earnings refunded back to Government. 8.The Law Commission should set up a special Law Commission to revisit the Penal Code and the Injunctions Bill, and make appropriate recommendations on the legality and constitutionality of such bills within the next six months. 9.The President should visibly demonstrate good faith towards the Office of the Vice President, starting by returning her official motorcade and reinstating her in the performance of her official duties. 10.The Government should commit to Local Government Elections within the next twelve months and not in 2014 as announced. 11.The University Council should immediately reinstate the four lecturers dismissed during the academic freedom debacle, and issue a statement affirming that no spies will be allowed in lecture rooms henceforth. 12.The instruction pertaining to a deposit of MK2,000,000 to be lodges prior to demonstrations must be nullified immediately; 13.Immediately cease the inequitable usage of MBC/TV public broadcasters and television to castigate and threaten those with dissenting views and open up these public media for equal access by all stakeholders; 14.Immediately cease and desist the habitual contempt of court disregard for court orders by the Executive arm of government 15.Immediately provide essential drugs in all hospitals and clinics to rectify the persistent lack of drugs which frustrated health/care workers and patients. 16.Human resource capacity building for health workers and Nurses must be reinvigorated forthwith; 17.Immediately address the issue of incentives of Nurses as many (up to 300) have not been paid their allowances for the last 3 years. 18.To consider living wage as opposed to minimum wage and living wage raised to MK25,000 a month. 19.We demand decent jobs and conditions for all workers 20.We demand an effective social protection system for the welfare of all Malawians but more especially those from the poorest sections of society who always seem to 'fall between the cracks'. Failure to meet these demands will reinforce our stand that the current Government has failed to govern this country in an equitable and democratic manner and that our fear of regressing into an autocratic kleptocracy is valid. We hope to be proven wrong and pray for a transformation that will set the ship of Malawi onto its rightful course for the benefit and well-being of all Malawians. VIVA STRUGGLE AGAINST OPPRESSION AND DICTATORSHIP! Viva Democracy Viva!!! 20th July 2011


Share for Success